Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (audiobook)

Title: Lincoln in the Bardo
Author: George Saunders
Publish Date: February 14, 2017
# of Pages: 343
Rating: ⭐️⭐️


(From 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 returns, alone, to the crypt several times 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 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 to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?


Lincoln in the Bardo is a unique tale about Abraham Lincoln and his son, Willie Lincoln. In the novel, Willie Lincoln dies during childhood but remains as a ghost in in the cemetery in which he was laid to rest. While much of the story is told from the perspective of the ghosts in the cemetery, the novel is also a study on grief.

So what to say about Lincoln in the Bardo? To be completely transparent, I listened to this book on audiobook, which maybe isn’t the best median for this novel. The audiobook features a star-studded cast including Nick Offerman, Ben Stiller, and Julianne Moore. While the voice acting was great, there were 166 different narrators. It was downright difficult to follow the storyline at times, and keeping the different narrators straight was next to impossible.

With the unique writing style and 166 different narrators, this is how I felt while listening to the audiobook: “Am I stoned? Are the narrators stoned? Was the author stoned while writing this book? Now they’re talking about poop. Why are they talking about poop? Ah! Now everyone is yelling and cussing. What’s going on??? Wait, who’s talking? Okay, next chapter . . .”


I think I need to read the hardcopy of this novel just to give it a fair shake. I know this is a popular book, and it has to be popular for a reason, so I think Saunder’s unique writing style was somewhat lost in the audiobook format. If you’ve been looking at this book, read the book. Don’t let the star-studded cast of the audiobook suck you in.


  1. Unique writing style. While it didn’t always come across the best in the audiobook, it was clear that Saunders has a very unique writing style. I liked that his style is so different and am driven to try another of his novels just to experience it.
  2. Humorous. This book had some seriously funny moments that made it worth the read (or listen).
  3. All the feels. It was happy, it was sad, it was funny–this book made you feel all the feels.
  4. Voice actors. The voice actors were fantastic.


  1. What’s going on? There was just too much going on at times to follow everything that was happening in the novel. I spent a lot of time listening to the book, wondering who was talking and why they were important to the story.


“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them.”

“Strange, isn’t it? To have dedicated one’s life to a certain venture, neglecting other aspects of one’s life, only to have that venture, in the end, amount to nothing at all, the products of one’s labors ultimately forgotten?”

“When a child is lost there is no end to the self-torment a parent may inflict. When we love, and the object of our love is small, weak, and vulnerable, and has looked to us and us alone for protection; and when such protection, for whatever reason, has failed, what consolation (what justification, what defense) may there possibly be?”

Buy It

Check this book out at your local library, or buy it here* on Amazon.

*Note: this is an affiliate link


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (audiobook)

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