Comments from the judges
Lincoln in the Bardo is a masterpiece of polyphonic fiction. It shows us how a highly sophisticated writer challenges himself at his prime. It actualizes the ambition of reviving the dead, turning a 19th century cemetery into our present world. It is experimental and authentic, playful and lyrical, allegorical yet extremely realistic. When President Lincoln walks into Georgetown Cemetery, grieving over his late young son Willie, all the long-dead spirits come to life in Saunders’ book, their voices original, various, hilarious and touching, taking us into a whirlpool between reality and fiction, the historical and personal, life and death – the bardo. In such a devastating place, Saunders illuminates a yearning for genuine kindness and goodness, something that might have dimmed in our increasingly intellectual and cynical dealing with the world. It takes the utmost integrity and talent to light this fire. And Saunders has succeeded in his heroic journey writing this novel.
About the book
The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.
From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?
About the author
George Saunders is the author of nine books, including Lincoln in the Bardo, winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize and the Premio Rezzori prize. Tenth of December was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Folio Prize. He has received MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.
An imaginative and heartbreaking story of grief, guilt, punishment and the denial of death, citing contemporary references as well as fictionalized undead narrators, and made no less moving by it’s unconventional form.
Descending into the Bardo (the Buddhist state of existence between life and death), recently deceased Willie Lincoln reunites with his despairing father Abraham. Hence, the readers descends into a fascinating, picturesque graveyard of gossiping ghosts who nominate themselves to forecast Willie’s heavenly fate – all taking place in a single evening. Most poignant is Saunders’ characterizations – animated spectres of long-dead commentators, and a pitiful Willie who makes the readers’ heart pine. Perhaps most effective – a portrayal of the awesome personality of Abraham Lincoln. Saunders’ treatment of Lincoln’s character encourages a magical re-imagining and new perspective of American history and culture, devastated by the civil war.
Swinging from heartbreak to humor, Lincoln in the Bardo centers around the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, and both Lincoln and Willie’s inability to move past Willie’s sudden death. Both are trapped in a kind of limbo. In Willie’s case, the ‘Bardo’, the Tibetan word for a transitional state between life and death. The juxtaposition of historical fiction with the spirit world makes this novel unforgettable.
Lincoln in the Bardo is wildly inventive, funny and heart-breaking – one of the most innovative books published in a long time.
Unique structure, lovely writing, a complicated story that many staff raved about.
Wholly original storytelling full of humour, poignant emotion, tragic characters and an unusual setting. In the midst of one parent’s anguish, a cemetery of ghosts and spirits still clinging to whiffs of life, come together to ease pain and remember their lives.
A bereft Abraham Lincoln visits his son Willie in the graveyard. Willie is just one of the spirits observing these visits – the voices of the recently and long-past dead act as a sort of Greek chorus in this innovative novel.