Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

The first novel from Folio Prize-winning George Saunders is about beloved President Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War. The novel unfolds over a single night on 22 February 1862.

Willie’s mother, Mary Lincoln, is too devastated to attend his funeral and instead remains in bed.

Willie 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.

Saunders is a Buddhist and his reference to the bardo is the transitional state between life and death in Tibetan Buddhism. Willie finds himself in transition; certain that his father would like him to remain close by. In this ghostly transition Willie is surrounded by other restless souls.

As Abraham Lincoln grieves his son’s death, the country he serves begins to doubt his ability to deal with the Civil War.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a fascinating read, one that stays with you long after you have turned the final page.

You can buy the book here in Australia and here in the UK.

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