Death and grieving are among the most examined issues in literature. However, George Saunders is among the authors who give these themes the seriousness and attention that they deserve. In Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders guides readers as they attempt to understand the dynamics of grieving and death. Relying on Abraham Lincoln’s experience with the loss of his son as the source material, Saunders provides an inspired, sober, and enlightening look into the various approaches that individuals adopt as they process loss and death.
As noted above, Lincoln in the Bardo is concerned with how Lincoln, one of America’s most consequential presidents mourned. By focusing on Lincoln, Saunders spotlights the universality of death. No one can escape it. In fact, the powerful and the elite appear to suffer the greatest devastation when they lose a loved one. As Saunders records in the novel, after losing his son, Lincoln experienced an unimaginable anguish. The fact that he grieved so openly should move others to be genuine, and unafraid as they work through their losses.
Lincoln is among the primary characters in Lincoln in the Bardo. However, Saunders relies on other characters as well to advance his themes and message. Among these characters is Willie, Lincoln’s son. Full of life and immense promise, Willie dies despite his father’s hope that he would recover from his ailment. By positioning Willie centrally, Saunders highlights the crucial role that children play in providing parents with a sense of purpose. Following Willie’s death, Lincoln was reduced to a broken man who had lost all direction and reason to live.
Whereas Lincoln’s experiences comprise a bulk of Lincoln in the Bardo, this novel also presents insights into the beliefs of certain religious communities. For instance, the book echoes the belief that upon death, one’s spirit enters another world. To further highlight this belief, the book describes how Willie’s soul is suspended in limbo, held from entering the afterlife by Lincoln’s immense grief. By including the notion of the afterlife, Saunders displays sensitivity and respect for the religious values and views of his readers. This book does not alienate. It strives to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
When one reviews Lincoln in the Bardo, they need to explore how Saunders reflects on the value of compassion. By portraying Lincoln as a deeply sad and broken leader, Saunders shows that those who grieve desperately need compassion. They desire to be understood and for those offering comfort to disregard their social standing. In essence, death is an equalizer that exposes the humanity of all. It shows that despite the façade that they present to the public, even the powerful also desire warmth, comfort and to be held with compassion.
As part of the synopsis and review of Lincoln in the Bardo, it is important to acknowledge that this book will not appeal to all readers. Among those will find the book to be upsetting are those who are fragile and have immense faith in their leaders. Such leaders will leave disappointed when they learn that even their leaders fall, cry and grieve. It can be argued that when they find out that powerful individuals also grapple with such hardships as loss, these readers will begin to understand that humans are more similar than they are different.
There are countless texts that have covered the life of Lincoln. However, most of these texts place these experiences within a sanitized, edited historical frame. Saunders took a different path. He opts to present Lincoln’s suffering in a raw form. He trusts his readers to draw their own meanings and conclusions. More importantly, Saunders depicts Lincoln as completely human. It is therefore not surprising that Lincoln in the Bardo has won prizes and Saunders has achieved recognition. The book is indeed impactful as it resonates with many who have lost.
Unlike other writers who tend to be lazy, Saunders demonstrates remarkable imagination. While he strives to present the raw truth, he embellishes the book with his own creations. For instance, by introducing his vision of the afterlife, Saunders imbues Lincoln in the Bardo with greater depth, dimension and interest. This book is not a mere rehashing of history. Instead, it is a work of art that challenges what readers know about Lincoln and exposes them to a new look into his life. Readers should approach the book with an open mind and enthusiasm.
What makes Lincoln in the Bardo particularly impactful is how Saunders manages to expertly blend real and fictitious objects. For example, such characters as Lincoln and his son Willie are real historical figures. On the other hand, the afterlife is among the things that Saunders imagines. One would expect that the real and made up components would struggle to function together in the same universe. Testament to Saunders’ unparalleled imagination and vision, the novel achieves seamless interactions among the two seemingly incompatible worlds.
In closing, Lincoln would be hard pressed to find a better man to document his life. Saunders does his justice by soberly yet creatively presenting what Lincoln experienced in the wake of his son’s death. Few other authors can accomplish such a feat. Lincoln in the Bardo receives 5 stars easily and a resounding endorsement. While all types of readers will find the book to be enlightening, those best positioned to grow from the book are individuals reeling from such heavy losses as the death of loved ones.