Lincoln in the Bardo Book Summary - Lincoln in the Bardo Book explained in key points

Lincoln in the Bardo summary

George Saunders

Brief summary

Lincoln in the Bardo is a haunting novel by George Saunders that takes place in the afterlife. It delves into the grief and sorrow that accompanies loss, offering a unique exploration of the human condition.

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    Lincoln in the Bardo
    Summary of key ideas

    A Journey To The Afterlife

    In George Saunders' captivating novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, we're taken on an unexpected journey to the afterlife. The story is set in a graveyard where young Willie Lincoln, the son of President Abraham Lincoln, has just been laid to rest. Willie finds himself in the Bardo, a Tibetan concept of purgatory, and is thronged by ghosts in the cemetery.

    The novel showcases these ghostly individuals as they're stuck in the Bardo, enthralled in their past and unable to move on. At the same time, they guide Willie through his daunting afterlife journey. Saunders threads together their stories using a unique format called polyphony, which mixes historical texts with his fictional narrative.

    The Spiritual Struggle

    As the middle of Lincoln in the Bardo unfolds, Willie Lincoln and the ghosts traverse the harder facets of mortality. Being a child, Willie is warned he should move on to the afterlife quickly, or risk being trapped in an in-between state like the others. Simultaneously, a profound grief plagues Abraham Lincoln, which is a principal focus of the book's central narrative. He visits the cemetery at night, unable to let go of his son.

    Saunders uses this father-son relationship to thread empathy and sorrow throughout the story. The struggle each character endures: Willie traversing the Bardo and Abraham wrestling with grief, highlights the paradox of life and death. They both learn to release and accept the inevitable turning tides of existence.

    An Unexpected Twist

    The climax of Lincoln in the Bardo presents the readers with a bittersweet and touching finale. A spiritual showdown emerges between the ghosts and a malevolent force, that threatens to keep Willie stranded in the Bardo forever. Parallels are drawn between Willie's attempt to transition to the afterlife, and Lincoln's struggle to move forward from his grief.

    In an extraordinarily poignant moment of realization, Abraham Lincoln finally understands that he must let go of Willie, for both their sakes. This profound acceptance helps Willie find his peace, enabling him to move on to the afterlife successfully. At the same time, it allows Abraham to commence his healing process.

    The Grief We Carry

    In conclusion, Lincoln in the Bardo is Saunders' unique take on the immortal cycle of life and death, intertwined with grief and acceptance. It reminds us of the importance of moving forward and the strength it takes to let go of the people we dearly love. Packed with relatable emotions, the novel informs readers about the reality of death, and the lingering effects of grief.

    The book presents diverse perspectives on death, around which we can frame our understanding. Through its unusual narrative and richly drawn characters, it offers an intimate exploration of loss, love and the human condition. In the end, it urges readers to face mortality and make the most of the life we have.

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    What is Lincoln in the Bardo about?

    'Lincoln in the Bardo' by George Saunders tells the story of Abraham Lincoln's grief-stricken visit to the crypt of his young son, Willie, who has recently died. Set in a graveyard that is populated by spirits stuck in the "bardo," the book explores themes of love, loss, and the search for redemption. Saunders weaves together historical accounts, fictional narratives, and excerpts from primary sources to create a unique and moving portrayal of one of America's greatest leaders.

    Who should read Lincoln in the Bardo?

    • Readers who enjoy unconventional storytelling and experimental narratives
    • History buffs and those interested in the Civil War era
    • People who appreciate insightful reflections on grief, loss, and the complexities of the human condition

    About the Author

    George Saunders is an American author known for his inventive and thought-provoking storytelling. Throughout his career, he has written numerous critically acclaimed books, including CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Tenth of December. His breakout novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, won the Man Booker Prize in 2017. Saunders' writing often explores themes of empathy, loss, and the human condition in a style that is uniquely his own.

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