Select language, opens an overlay
Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

A Novel

Book Club Kit - 2017
Average Rating:
Rate this:
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. "My poor boy, he was too good for this earth," the president says at the time. "God has called him home." Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy's body. From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state--called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo--a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie's soul. Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction's ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices--living and dead, historical and invented--to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2017].
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780812985405
Characteristics: 341 pages ; 24 cm.
10 books and 1 reading guide in a plastic tote.


From Library Staff

List - #BooksThatSuitYou
WCLSAdults Apr 15, 2019

King of Hearts - Grief is the logical ending of love. This bold work of supernatural historical fiction imagines the aftermath of the death of Lincoln’s son and the all-encompassing grief enveloping the President.

WCLSDemingLibrary Aug 05, 2017

The way the particular Bardo of the book and all its dimensions are slowly revealed, and the characters whose stories I learn through their own confused/illusive/wandering/clear voices = an amazing feat of writing and spirit and magic. Heart, hilarity, and history. Longing and levity. I so highl... Read More »

WCLSPointRobertsLibrary Jun 13, 2018

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 the... Read More »

Recommended by Lois


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Mar 18, 2021

I wanted to like this book, but found the audiobook distracting because of citations. The cacophony of the dead was far too much a part of the story and detracted from focus on Lincoln and his grief over the loss of his beloved son. Disappointed. Bookwoman and Abby Tabby

Mar 05, 2021

What an interesting book - I enjoyed it very much and occassionly laughed aloud . I can see why it won the Booker in 2017 .

Chapel_Hill_KrystalB Feb 11, 2021

What an interesting book, especially on audio- so many great narrators (Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Carrie Brownstein to name a few). Loved the blending of sorrow with the nuttiness of the bardo’s inhabitants and the added perspective of actual historical accounts. Random thoughts: I think it would make an excellent play (if that’s not already a thing). Looks like a movie might come of it? Definitely in for that. Also gotta say, I think it would pair nicely with The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, despite its intended juvenile audience.

LCPL_Cathy Nov 06, 2020

I sometimes have a hard time reviewing a book that I really loved or an author that I highly respect because I’m afraid that I won’t do them justice so here, I’ll just say that I loved this beautiful book so much and George Saunders is one of my favorite authors.

Nov 01, 2020

Total waste of time. Have no idea what this author is trying to do. Can not call this a "novel"; just a crazy bunch of ridiculous quotes.

Aug 07, 2020

Highly creative and entertaining. Unique. President Lincoln's beloved young son, Willie, dies and is buried in Georgetown cemetery. He is met there by a number of interesting characters, all of them existing in the "bardo", a state of incomplete transition. The ghosts quarrel, compete, express themselves, provide us with humorous moments and insights into their lives "before". The final section of the novel is particularly moving and deeply human.

Jul 16, 2020

At first a patchwork of citations and ghost or spirit dialogues. As time passes ghosts come to terms with their predicament, their lives lived and when ready they pass onto the next realm. A tale experimental and refreshing in a way, didn't come together as it was a graveyard's lingering souls' cacophany, a variety of voices that only found worthwhile moments of meaning at the intervals where the cast of ghosts' issues resolved with their contentment and ascent. As in life and death amongst the blathering there are some gleamings to be found. Perhaps, a moral or two is thrown around. Audio book is read by a very impressive cast of comedians, but the tale lacked humor and glib was an inadequate substitution.

multcolib_susannel Jun 30, 2020

From the time you open this book to the time you slam it shut, your brain will be taken on a wild rollercoaster ride through a cemetery where some occupants are living and some dead, but all want to tell their story!

Feb 22, 2020

I wanted to like this book, but found the audiobook distracting because of citations. The cacophony of the dead was far too much a part of the story and detracted from focus on Lincoln and his grief over the loss of his beloved son. Disappointed. Bookwoman and Abby Tabby

Dec 21, 2019

Unreadable. Not experimental, just unreadable.

View All Comments


Add Notices
May 05, 2018

Other: Topics: Death, super natural.

May 05, 2018

Frightening or Intense Scenes: Intense empathetic scenes.

May 05, 2018

Coarse Language: Moderate language.


Add Age Suitability
May 04, 2018

LThomas_Library thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over


Add a Quote
JCLChrisK Oct 17, 2018

All were in sorrow, or had been, or soon would be. It was the nature of things. Though on the surface it seemed every person was different, this was not true. At the core of each lay suffering; our eventual end, the many losses we must experience on the way to that end. We must try to see one another in this way. As suffering, limited beings, perennially outmatched by circumstances, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings


Find it at BPL

To Top