If you’re in need of a reading recommendation for the summer, you’ve come to the right place! Check out our latest staff selection. Happy summer — and happy reading!
As a longtime fan of George Saunders’ short stories, I was excited to pick up his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House, 2017). The story takes place over the course of one night in Oak Hill Cemetery, days after the death from typhoid fever of 11-year-old Willie, beloved son of President Abraham Lincoln. Saunders builds a narrative from snippets drawn from letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and memoirs (some real, and some imagined). The story is rounded out by the cemetery’s current (ghostly) inhabitants, who reveal details about their own life stories as they observe Lincoln’s intense, private grief inside the crypt where his son is interred.
Bardo is a Tibetan Buddhist word that refers to an intermediate state. This concept works on many levels in the novel: the ghosts are unwilling to admit that they’re dead and can’t leave their past lives behind, President Lincoln grieves the loss of his son, and a nation suffers in the grip of a bloody civil war . Saunders’ genius for capturing the small moments that make us all human is on full display in this deeply moving novel.