Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders’s new novel (his first), features ghosts inhabiting a graveyard who have all the time in the world to tell and retell their stories to one another. Like the denizens of Dante’s Inferno, these spirits are eager to rehash their memories, and unwilling to accept that life has been taken from them. Their graveyard is more a purgatory than an inferno; the “bardo” of the title refers to the Buddhist concept of a limbo state between one life and the next. But there’s still plenty of lamentation to go around. A trio of ghosts serves as the novel’s protagonists and a Greek chorus of sorts, narrating events and commentinkg on their fellow specters. But when their stasis is interrupted by the arrival of Willie Lincoln—the son of Abraham Lincoln—these unquiet spirits are forced to confront the facts of their circumstances.
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