Have never read any books by G Saunders, and will not read another. This book was confusing and jumped all over with each sentence or paragraph having a reference. Even though it was a novel and I read mostly nonfiction. The author's thinking and verbalizing was over my head and with out a story line.
Didn't know George Saunders from Adam but am now in love with this inventive, unique mind that manages to describe crushing grief, confusion, the horrors of civil war, the smallness and the greatness of the human spirit through excerpts from writings of Lincoln's period and the musings of numerous 'spirits' unwilling to leave the between-world of the bardo. Fascinating, constantly surprising, a tour de force, but not an easy read.
This was a tough read for me. I struggled some with the format (multiple POVs) and the disjointedness of it but it did eventually come together for me enough to enjoy some of the story.
The 2017 Mann Booker Prize winner will not be everyone's cup of tea. The premise is the historical fact that Abraham Lincoln's young son, Willie, has died. A few nights later, Lincoln, wracked with grief and bowed by fatigue, visits the cemetery. The bardo comes from a Tibetan Buddhist concept of the place between death and rebirth. The book is written in many voices, mostly from inhabitants of the bardo (including Willie) who come from all walks of life and sometimes from historical and more contemporary works about Lincoln and Willie. At times the book seems brilliant and at other times, I found it just plain confusing. Fortunately, the book is a quick read.
Saunders is a genius, and this book is a work of genius. Which is not to say everyone will love it the way I did. I read it non-stop and was done way too quickly. I loved the different voices describing the same thing (the moon, Lincoln's eyes) or event (a party, a funeral) - how difficult it is for humans to know anything surely! I loved the metaphysic of Saunders' afterlife, blending Tibetan Buddhism with C.S. Lewis and adding a dash of Saunders' own astute wit. This is a book that bears re-reading, and fully deserves every prize it has won and will win.
Just won the 2017 Man Booker Prize.
Without a doubt the most unique novel I've read in a long time. "Bardo" is a limbo, that place between worlds and is the place we find Willie Lincoln who died at age 11 of typhoid. When President Lincoln come to the cemetery to visit him it riles up many other spirits also in the Bardo. It is about freedom and slavery, body and spirit, the civil war and the author says the novel’s "Apparent Narrative Rationale" is that it is about Abraham Lincoln. Although odd and somewhat difficult to get a handle on, it is well worth the read.
This book was incredibly unique, well written and poignant. I am so glad to have read it. Despite this, it is a difficult book to recommend. Or perhaps I just don't know where to begin to explain it. The story itself is simple and sad. It is a story of the grief Lincoln experiences when his young son dies. It's the telling of the story that is interesting and unusual. Told through the many voices of the souls in the crypt where the boy lays. If you appreciate the work of George Saunders or if you are curious to read something with a unique and creative format, this book will not disappoint you.
As other commentators have weighed in, this is a book that divides readers. I had listened to Saunders in interview and was captivated by his reading of a brief section at the beginning, in the voice of one of his main narrators. So I had a lot of anticipation going in... The Spoon River Anthology analogy is very apt, and if approached more as script than novel, per se, the book does gain in emotional impact.
Like another reader, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. I found the real and fictionalized references somewhat distracting and cumbersome, hindering what was a meandering story to mid-point. And the concentrated focus on men and male grief seemed somewhat claustrophobic by the end. Inventive, yes, clever, without a doubt. But I felt its cleverness and scholarship, and like most children, I'd rather not have a magician disclose their tricks.
I really wanted to like this book, but I found it so confusing. Hated the way the story is told and just did not enjoy it!
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