A Review of Lincoln In The Bardo By George Saunders

I have never written a review of a book for my blog, and I don’t intend for it to become a regular thing. You see, I read this book, and I wanted to talk to someone about it. This review has a few spoilers and probably strong opinions.

I begin by saying that I did not like the book, not for typical reasons like tone, theme, or sacrifices to the god of literature. “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders was not what I expected it to be, most of the book took place in a graveyard, so much emo for a small person as I. The premise of the book is about the death of William “Willie” Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln’s child) and how it affected the other spirits in the cemetery, where he was kept until he could appropriately rest in peace, when his father showed up and wept, holding his child, only to return once more to say his final goodbye. The spirits do not know that the child’s father is the current president of the United States and that we are at war. The historical settings do a number on my heart, with racial tension high as the north and south clash based on their beliefs and way of life. Having sat through numerous classes as they discuss the Civil War and what each side was fighting for: was it for a progression of a new age or the hell-bent idea that one race was inferior to the next? I find this question harder to answer the older I become, the more I lack the concrete evidence that both sides were fighting for something greater than themselves- it was an idea.

While I could go on about how slavery was a cruel and unreasonable institution and the necessity of freedom and equality, that’s not what made me want to write about this book. I read a book that focused on death, the things and people we leave behind, and the love for a child that is gone too soon. To read about the grief, the president carried with him like an old photograph creased around the edges, and slowly fading was palpable. I felt the sorrow in my bones as one who has lost loved ones, the feeling was uncomfortable, like a lump of bread stuck in my throat. I hated it.

The different characters in the graveyard reminded me of “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman, them having lived there for centuries, each believing that their current knowledge was real until proven otherwise. Each character refuses to move on because they think someone or something is going to come for them and make their life beautiful again. What pisses me off is how strongly they hold to their belief. The man who died before he could have sex with his wife half his age, so he walks around naked with his cough, cough member enlarged. This part of the story took me for a roll; he called his coffin a sick-box because he refused to acknowledge his death. Constantly, thinking that she awaits his return and wanting to touch her skin. This reunion never happens, and till the end, he denies the fact she remarried and gave her love to another.

There is a couple who uses colorful explicits and strings of curse words to denounce anything and everything they thought wrong when, in reality, they are the ones who needed to change their lives. The reality that they could have been better parents, better people, only struck them at the end when Willie (Remember him, our semi-main character.) tells them that they are dead.

Other characters made me want to scream at the unfairness of this world: The mulatto girl, raped and abused so much that she lost her voice, even in death, the house slave, thinking he lived a happy life. When he died, no one came to look for his body, (he ended up in a mass slave grave.), the young man, in the moments before his death he realized he wanted to live, (especially when he was going to meet a hot Brazilian lover who would cough, cough him into euphoria.)

Death is unfair, taking what it will, never stopping to consider the status of a person or what they must still do in their life. I found it quite disastrous how these characters clung to life, forgot their loved ones moved on, or even if they were thrown away. The book spoke more of Lincoln as a person rather than a president, more of a father than a leader, a man of ambition, a man.

You may ask me, so why do you dislike the book, Joy? Looking back, now I am not so sure that I disliked it. I thought of death and the life I lived, my inevitable demise, and the meaning of life. I had no answers to the questions the book proposed.

Where do we go after death?
Will someone still love me when I am dead?
Does my life have meaning?
Is there a reason why people are so angry?
Will I accept my judgment at the end of my life?

I cower, holding my head in my hands and scream, this wretched book has made me question my state of mind, and perhaps that is why I dislike it.

If you want to know more about my work, check out my latest poetry collection.

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