A Founding Father Grieves for His Son in ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’

“The Bardo is this Buddhist concept of the period after someone dies and before their soul goes on to its next incarnation.”

By Joy DiazFebruary 20, 2017 1:50 pm|

February is the month of love – and yet Clay Smith, Austin-based editor-in-chief of Kirkus Reviews, says it’s high-time for a book about ghosts.

Lincoln in the Bardo,” the highly-anticipated debut novel from Amarillo-born George Saunders, explores President Lincoln simultaneously dealing with presidency and the death of his son through the concept of the Bardo.

The Bardo is this Buddhist concept of the period after someone dies and before their soul goes on to its next incarnation,” Smith says.

The book unfolds in a Washington cemetery, as Lincoln visits the grave of his son, Willy, who died of typhoid fever in 1862.

“As Lincoln is there, there’s this whole sort of cacophony of voices and ghosts who haven’t moved on to the next world yet – and they’re commenting on Lincoln, they are moving through his body and feeling his emotions and thoughts,” Smith says. “And that’s how Saunders gets in to Lincoln’s personality.”

Smith says the subject matter of Saunders’ book was most likely influenced by the popularity of a commencement speech he gave about suffering and kindness.

“In that speech he basically talked about Buddhist concepts of kindness and that everyone is suffering in some way – and that it is better to go about life trying to put some kindness into the world.”