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There are few American heroes as universally honored as Abraham Lincoln.  His masterful handling of the worst crisis this nation ever faced, along with his subsequent martyrdom, have over the decades lifted him beyond the status of a mortal to that of a demigod in the hearts of many.  This is particularly troublesome because such hagiography obscures the fact that Lincoln was a real person, with real pain and a real personality.  Many attempts to point out his feet of clay have fallen short, but this book by George Saunders is probably the most ambitious, and the most touching, of any attempt I have ever read.  The premise of the book is very simple.  Lincoln, in the midst of dealing with the Civil War, lost his twelve-year-old son Willie to typhoid fever and, like any parent, found the death almost too much to bear for his sanity.  The story takes place in the graveyard where Willie’s body is taken, and the restless souls who inhabit it interact with the boy’s spirit as well as his living father who comes to grieve late at night.  The book is creepy, joyous, sad, funny, and overall intriguing as the living President enters the domain of the dead (the Tibetan term “bardo” refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth).  It is difficult to get into the rhythm of this book, but once you do it is well worth the effort.  For me, it took a graveyard of ghosts to appreciate the real, living and breathing Lincoln.

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Thanks for the review, Kim. I have read some amazing things about this book, and would like to read it myself.

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