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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.

This discussion will be held in the Trustee's Room, located on the 3rd Floor of the library. An alternate session will be held earlier in the day at 2:30pm in the Dweck Auditorium in Meeting Room #2, which is located in the basement level of the library.

Reserve a special Discussion Sets copy of the novel, or pick one up on display in the Language and Literature division. Click here for more information about the Discussion Sets collection.

Finished the book (very) early, maybe it's finally time to read Ron Chernow's biography of Ulysses S. Grant? Or, you could read ahead to the next installment in our discussion series Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend. Have a suggestion for our next discussion? Email me at [email protected]

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