One of Time 's Top 10 Novels of the Year - One of The Washington Post 's Ten Best Books of the Year February 1862. Read more...
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One of Time's Top 10 Novels of the Year - One of The Washington Post's Ten Best Books of the Year 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? "A luminous feat of generosity and humanism."--Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review "A masterpiece."--Zadie Smith "Ingenious . . . Saunders--well on his way toward becoming a twenty-first-century Twain--crafts an American patchwork of love and loss, giving shape to our foundational sorrows."--Vogue
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George Saunders, a master practitioner of the short story, delivers an extraordinary first novel with Lincoln in the Bardo. In 1862, with the Civil War under way, President Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie, succumbs to typhoid fever. He is buried in a cemetery in Georgetown, where Lincoln, wild with loss, goes to be with his son. Saunders uses history as the springboard for the rest of Willie’s story, which takes place in the bardo—a sort of limbo where the young boy coexists with ghosts who aren’t quite ready to leave the world behind. Willie’s experiences in the transitory spiritual realm stand in contrast to the goings-on of material reality, from Lincoln’s grief to the unfolding war that is sundering the nation. Even as he plumbs the nature of a father’s sorrow, Saunders brings a sense of playfulness to the ghostly proceedings. Winner of the Man Booker Prize, his narrative draws upon elements of history and fabulism. It’s a daring novel that defies easy classification.
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Historical-fiction buffs will happily surrender to Francis Spufford’s sweeping debut novel, Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York, a spirited narrative set in the 18th century. Richard Smith, 24 years old, arrives in New York from London and proceeds to cause a stir. He ruffles the feathers of Lovell, a marketeer in Golden Hill (where the financial district now stands), to whom he proffers a bill for 1,000 pounds sterling. Over dinner, he offends Lovell’s lovely daughter, Tabitha. Believed to be a papist, Richard is chased by a gang through the unsavory quarters of the city. When he’s rescued by Septimus Oakeshott, a government official, Richard becomes caught up in New York’s political turmoil. Meanwhile, the real purpose of his arrival in America remains a mystery—one that’s central to the novel. Writing in the dialect of the time, Spufford constructs a narrative with plot twists aplenty and an overall tone of good humor. This rousing novel is a rewarding adventure from start to finish.
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction, Colson Whitehead’s hypnotic novel The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a young slave on a Georgia plantation who’s determined to make her way to freedom. When she learns of the Underground Railroad from Caesar, a new slave from Virginia, she teams up with him to escape the plantation and find a new home. Whitehead fantastically portrays the Underground Railroad as a functioning mode of transport, with engineers and miles of tracks under the earth. As they travel the railroad, pursued by slave hunters, Cora and Caesar make their way across the South in a dangerous quest for freedom. Whitehead’s visionary narrative includes the stories of Cora’s mother, Mabel, as well as Ethel, who provides sanctuary along the way. Rich in detail and assured in its historical conceit, this is a beautifully wrought speculative tale that’s destined to become a classic.