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Book Review – Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

I can’t say enough good things about this book. Saunder’s Catholicism-informed Buddhism is on full display. The detailing of Lincoln’s transformation of grief is one of the best things I’ve ever read on dealing with loss. The re-animation of the souls stuck in bardo through their metta/lovingkindness engagement with the departing Lincoln, also great.

Also highlighted many passages about how, at the time, people thought Lincoln was a horrible leader, horrible parent, etc. and history holds him in an entirely different regard than his contemporaries.

We must try to see one another in this way. As suffering, limited being.

Also, the passages about what the dead will miss about daily life (the specificity. pasting a long one here):

Though the things of the world were strong with me still. Such as, for example: a gaggle of children trudging through a side-blown December flurry; a friendly match-share beneath some collision-tilted streetlight; a frozen clock, bird-visited within its high tower; cold water from a tin jug; toweling off one’s clinging shirt post–June rain. Pearls, rags, buttons, rug-tuft, beer-froth. Someone’s kind wishes for you; someone remembering to write; someone noticing that you are not at all at ease. A bloody roast death-red on a platter; a hedgetop under-hand as you flee late to some chalk-and-woodfire-smelling schoolhouse. Geese above, clover below, the sound of one’s own breath when winded. The way a moistness in the eye will blur a field of stars; the sore place on the shoulder a resting toboggan makes; writing one’s beloved’s name upon a frosted window with a gloved finger. Tying a shoe; tying a knot on a package; a mouth on yours; a hand on yours; the ending of the day; the beginning of the day; the feeling that there will always be a day ahead. Goodbye, I must now say goodbye to all of it. Loon-call in the dark; calf-cramp in the spring; neck-rub in the parlor; milk-sip at end of day.

— this seems right out of William Carlos Williams’ edict of no ideas but in things. meaning Saunders’ specificity of things in this passage is what makes it so damn powerful.

amazing book. have already read Saunder’s stories, looking forward to more novels from him for sure.