The Bardo Of Our Memories :: Gia Reads

I am currently reading "Lincoln In The Bardo" by George Saunders. I've just started but have quickly become enchanted by the unusual writing style. I didn't peruse it at all before purchasing it, so when I opened the cover and noticed all the white space and dialogue delivered like a play, I was a little scared and disappointed. This was not going to be a novel like I was used to.

Now, this isn’t a review because I haven’t finished, instead, I want to share (from time-to-time) little things that catch my attention and make it hard for me to keep up the pace of reading. Does that happen to anyone else out there? Do you pause in the middle of a section and get lost in thoughts the printed word stirred up in your mind? Then do find yourself blinking and looking down at the book, completely lost and unable to find where you left off?

Just me?

Oh well.

Back to what I was meaning to share…

*Shakes my head, blinks, and stares down at the keyboard in confusion*

Ah, yes...


In the early stages of the book, Saunders tells the reader what's happen in “present day” (when Lincoln’s son, Willie, died) by including accounts from real-life people and papers of the day. This, I thought, was going to be rather confusing but turned out to be fascinating. For instance, the night Willie died, the guests of the dinner party held at the White House all described it in different ways. Most people said there was a big, beautiful moon, but once in a while, a guest would say it was a cloudless night, dark and heavy.

I’m not sure why this was of such great interest to me. I suppose I was shocked by how an ordinary detail of the night could be reported so differently. Either there was a big, beautiful moon that lit up the night sky, or there wasn’t. How could anyone miss this detail? And if nights of historical significance, then what else throughout history has been skewed and tainted with poor, liquored-up memories (I suppose the death of Willie Lincoln was a sidebar in history)? Who else was too full of cakes and roasted partridge to remember the details, yet eager to give them anyway to whomever would listen and report?

It’s not just the death of Willie Lincoln. It’s everything.

It’s the bible—the supposed inerrant word of God. Which parts did the author apply their current culture without intending for the future Christians of distant time periods to try to apply it to their modern lives? Where did they indulge in beautiful, descriptive language without understanding how it would be manipulated by powers-that-be in the future?

The disconnect also takes place in our interpretation of how the Muslim and Christian faith are polar opposites when, in truth, they are siblings—blood relatives—not even step-siblings.

It’s our nation’s wretched memory of slavery in the United States. We still don’t want to truly look at that part of our history and swallow the hard truths of it’s deep, and dark evil. We happily pretend to understand and acknowledge it, yet cringe and grow uncomfortable when African Americans feel they are still not equal even today.

All of this diluted mess of history and truth reminds me of the scientific studies that prove that our DNA passes on memories from generation to generation. Scientists believe this might be why we have unreasonable phobias that make little since to us in our present condition, but made perfect since to the first owner of that fear.

I suppose our account of history now is little more than the tidbits—mostly fear—of the generations past. We absorb a small fraction and record it in a way that makes sense to us.

But it’s all skewed, isn’t it?

In the end, it didn’t matter if there was a full moon hanging over the White House; it only mattered that eleven year-old William Wallace Lincoln died much too early. From that moment on, the story of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln changed course. With their son placed within his sick box, their DNA was forever imprinted with melancholy and a depth of sadness all parents hope to never experience.

*Blinks...and sighs...and stares down at the computer, once again lost*

I’m still not sure where I left off, so I will start the chapter over again.


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