I'm having trouble forcing myself to finish this book. I would have given up much earlier except that it's the selection for my Tuesday night book group.
Strange, fascinating, moving, disturbing, challenging, poignant, and human. Oh, so very human.
This is a book that delves deep into the human condition and the particular human penchant for storytelling. It presents a myriad cast of characters, each obsessed with his or her own story. With telling it to others. And to living it out, over and over. They are stuck in their stories. Limited by them. Blinded by them. Stories of regret, sorrow, and unfinished lives. Unhappy stories.
Altogether, the chorus of voices communicates the complexities, the at times confusing paradoxical intricacies, of humanness. Though it can be a painful struggle at times to wade through the requisite suffering, there is balancing hope, joy, and compassion as a reward.
The audio production is laudable and impressive.
I really thought I was going to love this book and it just let me down. Maybe my expectations were too high but I was so not into it that I abandoned the read half way through.
The audiobook version is wonderful with a full cast of 166 different narrators, although it takes a little while to get used to the footnotes.
The undead in the Bardo tell their stories as Willie Lincoln arrives - they do not know they are dead and they are afraid of the transition to eternity. Their story is interlaced with real and fictional quotes of the times - the tragedy of the civil war, of Willie's death and Lincoln's grief. And a philosophy of life that drives the story.
I had heard a lot about this book and it was also recommended to me by a friend who works in the world of movies, so I had high expectations (not for the rave reviews, though, I have learnt to be cautious with them, but for my friend's opinion). It is an "experimental novel" due to the particular narrative style. Young Will, one of Lincoln's sons, dies and is temporarily brought to a cemetery in Georgetown. Here his father, unable to let him go, visits him and holds his corpse (true story). This is the main plot, but it gets more interesting, because the story is mostly told by several ghosts, who inhabit the cemetery and do their best to convince Will's spirit to leave and reach the other side, the proper place for him. Lincoln's love and desperation keep Will anchored to the wrong dimension, the cemetery, and the other specters tell us their stories while slowly helping the boy to move on. As I said before, the narrative style is unusual. Different ghosts pronounce parts of the same sentence, as if they were different voices of the same mind. The graphic reminded me of a play, because the names of the characters appear near what they say. I have to admit, it was a bit tiring, because of course I am used to a more flowing narrative and there are 166 characters here, but the final impression was that of a chorus, like in the Greek tragedies. Although I personally would not define this book one of the best that I have read, it is certainly very original and moving. Bardo is an intermediate space between death and rebirth in Buddhism, somehow like the Catholic Purgatory but with much less pain, it seems, from where the dead observe the living. If you have seen the play "Kodachrome" by Adam Szymkowicz you get an idea. Although there is lot of pain and loss, as well as regret, in the book, the final message is one of hope. Life doesn't end with death and the people we love are never really lost. It's not an easy book to read, but a sort of challenge, not only of our skills as readers but also as human beings.
This was a clever novel, nicely put together from letters and histories about Lincoln of the time, interwoven with the voices of the dead who refuse to accept death. It all takes place in the cemetery where Lincoln's child, Will, is taken to be interred. I didn't quite get the metaphor of the ghosts, during reading, but I figure now they represent the aspect of our culture that denies death so strenuously that it impairs their ability to live.
If you like Lincoln in the Bardo, try Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters and Our Town by Thornton Wilder. They all provide perspectives on life, for the living, by those who have passed. Enjoy your days, moment by moment. Do not dwell upon them but do take time to reflect now and then.
I enjoyed the book, but not as much as other works by this author--hard to follow. The ghosts denying death reminded me of many people who deny the obvious.,
Oddly composed of snippets of this and that, but I'm still at the beginning and a bit derailed by the over-the-top lavish state banquet, with all the exquisite confections and entrees, on the same night that Willie dies.
Later: Those who speak are in neither heaven nor hell, but caught by their own unsettled minds where their remains are buried. Stubbornly self-engrossed and unresolved, they find Lincoln's presence a very welcome respite. But demons dwell there too. A compelling work that still stays in my mind.
As Salieri said of Mozart's music in the film Amadeus "This was something entirely new."
Every now and then, a piece of art emerges that forces to rethink how we define that particular genre. Picasso, Pollock, Manet, Seurat, all put forth paintings in styles previously unknown, e e Cummings caused us to view poetry in a new way, and as Salieri observed, Mozart gave us music that was entirely new.
With this book, George Saunders has expanded our definition of what constitutes a novel, a fictional work of literature. It is difficult to find our way at times in this book, but that is noone' s fault. We are breaking new ground and that is an effort that goes slowly. The writing, if odd, is beautifully crafted. The ideas of the aftetlife, if unusual, are beautifully described. And the grief of Mr. Lincoln for his dead son is so raw and immediate, you feel as though you should turn away from witnessing such an intimate moment.
This book is the heir to Master's Spoon River Anthology, itself a groundbreaking play. If that work appealed to you at all, give this one a go and bring an open mind. I am guessing that you, like me, will never define the novel in quite the same way after reading this book.
I have gleaned from experts on TV that ghosts are spirits of the dead who can't move on to the next plane of existence. In this way they are perfect exemplars of the Buddhist problem of attachment, the universal neurosis that is the unspoken subject of Saunders' novel. The "ghosts" here are stuck in the bardo because they won't let go of something in their lives, and in this way they are more like living human beings than the dead. The key to their escape from this perpetual twilight is compassion. There is no mention of Buddha in this book, but it's a wonderful example of how buddhism works in the real world, as imaginary and imaginative as this graveyard bardo is.
That was an experience of a book. The format takes a little bit of getting used to but once I found my rhythm it was smooth sailing. Aside from the pain and gutpunching that the entire story as a whole is. Abraham Lincoln's young son, Willie, has died. He finds himself in an inbetween place with other spirits, who don't know or won't recognize their actual state of being. Meanwhile, in the living world, Lincoln grieves and a war goes on. The grief, and death, and destruction and penance being taken is heartbreaking. There are bits of humour throughout but it almost seems more tragic than funny.
I really enjoyed this. I guarantee you've never read anything like it.
Stick with it, the structure can be confusing but it's so original and creative. I loved it and think it will inspire other writers to try new ideas. Based partly on history and partly on philosophy and Eastern religious ideas.
I loved this book. It reminds me of one of my favorites, by Sherri Reynolds, "A Gracious Plenty". I have always loved ghost stories since being very young, but these two books about people who are talking to one another in their cemeteries, fascinate me.
I was excited to finally get this book after reading all the hype, and was sorely disappointed. The story is incredibly disjointed, jumping between snippets from publications and fictional characters within the book, often without any import and always without punctuation. I could not get into the story or the characters, and after about a 90 minutes of reading I resorted to skimming to just get through it.
I recommend listening to the audio of this book before reading it. With the audio you begin to understand much more quickly who is speaking and what the tone of the story is. Some of the more experimental aspects of the book on the page (lack of punctuation, lack of identification of who is speaking) are less distracting, and the narrative is more navigable. I absolutely loved this book once I relaxed and let what was mysterious about it (why are these people stuck in this place? are these real quotations from real journals?) unfold at its own pace. Saunders is not afraid to sail into unchartered waters in terms of storytelling. If you're willing to sail alongside him, you'll ultimately find his story to be heart-wrenching and beautiful, though not conventional. The confusion you sometimes experience is the confusion of the characters, too - you sometimes ask, as they do, "What is happening here?" You'll either find it unnerving or exciting.
I really wanted to like this book but found it too choppy especially in the audio version (I tried both print and audio)-too many great books to spend time trying to get this one.
This is one curious and original piece of fiction. I listened to the audiobook version, which is an excellent production, and makes all the many various voices very distinguishable.
And if you haven’t looked up ‘bardo’ yet, it is a term from Tibetan Buddhism meaning “the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth”.
I'm not a fan of experimental punctuation, but about a third of the way into the book, I got the rhythm of it and I think it works.
Disjointed, artsy, meaningless. I was listening to this book on CD and gave up after one disk.
I found this book unreadable. I was so looking forward to it as it is a compelling story idea and he is a great writer but I did not even finish it. And I finish everything!