Lincoln in the Bardo is a novel based on the true story of the death of William Wallace “Willie” Lincoln, a son of United States President Abraham Lincoln. In 1862, Willie Lincoln died of typhoid fever at the age of 11. The novel opens in the bardo, which is an intermediary state between life and the afterlife. Willie Lincoln materializes in the bardo and is greeted by Hans Vollman—a deceased printer who was killed at the age of 46 by a falling support beam—and Roger Bevins III—a young man who took his life after being rebuffed by a young man named Gilbert with whom Bevins was in love.
Through the use of real and invented historical sources, the novel relates the story of Willie’s death. The doctor believed that Willie was merely sick with a cold and would soon recover. Thus, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln proceeded with the state dinner they had planned. In the White House, they entertained many important diplomats, politicians, and military officers while Willie lay sick in his bed. Willie died not long after this night, as it turned out that he was sick with typhoid fever.
In the bardo, everyone that Willie meets is a person has died and been buried in the same cemetery as Willie, and even though they are in the bardo, they are able to view the cemetery around them. They also believe that they are not dead but merely sick. However, Vollman and Bevins encourage Willie to pass on to the next stage of the afterlife, as they know that the bardo is a dangerous place for young people. They knew a young person in the bardo—a young woman named Elise Traynor—who stayed in the bardo for too long and became trapped there forever. However, before Willie decides to pass on, his father arrives in the cemetery and looks at Willie’s body in the mausoleum where it lies. Lincoln hugs the body and speaks to it before leaving. This gives Willie and the other people in the bardo hope that Willie may be able to return to his former state with the help of his father. The people of the bardo tell Willie their stories so that he may help them once he has returned to his life.
However, Willie is soon grabbed by a malevolent tendril, as had happened to Elise Traynor when the bardo began to consume her. Vollman and Bevins follow Lincoln, merge with him, and try to get him to return to Willie’s mausoleum so that Willie can either be saved by his father or be convinced to pass on to the next stage of the afterlife. Lincoln returns to the mausoleum because he realizes he forgot to lock it. While Vollman and Bevins are away from the mausoleum, Willie converses with the Reverend Everly Thomas, another occupant of the bardo. It is revealed to the reader that, unlike the other people in the bardo, Reverend Thomas actually knows that he is dead. However, when he died and sat for judgment in the afterlife, he was cast back into the bardo for some inscrutable reason. Reverend Thomas believes that it is because he has committed some unrealized sin that he must account for.
Abraham Lincoln arrives at the mausoleum again to lock it. Vollman and Bevins urge Willie to merge with his father to hear his thoughts, but before Willie can do so, Abraham Lincoln begins to walk away. Then, more tendrils burst from the ground to grab Willie. They are possessed by the spirits of unrepentant sinners. Hearing these voices describe their crimes without remorse, Reverend Thomas becomes more confident in his own sense of morality, and he tricks the tendrils into letting go of Willie for a moment. Thomas then grabs Willie and attempts to run with him to safety. The tendrils knock them down, and Thomas is rewarded for his bravery by being allowed to pass into the next stage of the afterlife. Vollman then picks up Willie and brings him to the cemetery’s chapel, where his father sits.
In the chapel, Willie merges with his father and realizes that he is dead. He declares this to the other people of the bardo and then passes on to the next stage of the afterlife. At the same time, Lincoln is able to overcome his grief for his son, and he recommits to his resolutions as President in the midst of the Civil War. Greatly affected by Willie’s pronouncements, many more inhabitants of the bardo accept the fact of their deaths and allow themselves to pass into the afterlife. This includes Vollman and Bevins.
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?
From a beguiling voice in Mexican fiction comes an astonishing novel--her first to be translated into English--about a mysterious child with the power to change a family's history in a country on the verge of revolution.
From the day that old Nana Reja found a baby abandoned under a bridge, the life of a small Mexican town forever changed. Disfigured and covered in a blanket of bees, little Simonopio is for some locals the stuff of superstition, a child kissed by the devil. But he is welcomed by landowners Francisco and Beatriz Morales, who adopt him and care for him as if he were their own. As he grows up, Simonopio becomes a cause for wonder to the Morales family, because when the uncannily gifted child closes his eyes, he can see what no one else can--visions of all that's yet to come, both beautiful and dangerous. Followed by his protective swarm of bees and living to deliver his adoptive family from threats--both human and those of nature--Simonopio's purpose in Linares will, in time, be divined.
Set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918, The Murmur of Bees captures both the fate of a country in flux and the destiny of one family that has put their love, faith, and future in the unbelievable.
At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.
A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel. If you have not finished reading Normal People, we respectfully suggest that you wait before reviewing this guide.Questions and Topics for Discussion1. While living at home in Carricklea, Connell’s sense of self is managed by the opinions of his peers in secondary school. To that end, he avoids being publicly seen with Marianne, an outcast in school, fearing how their association might damage his reputation.
Were you critical of Connell for the way he treated Marianne in school, or were you sympathetic toward his adolescent self-consciousness? Do you think he became less concerned by the thoughts of others as he grew older?
2. With Marianne, Connell feels a sense of “total privacy” in which “he could tell her anything about himself, even weird things, and she would never repeat them, he knows that. Being alone with her is like opening a door away from normal life and then closing it behind him” (6–7).
Why do you think Connell is sometimes unnerved by their intense and intimate connection? Further, why do you think he’s unsettled by the sense that Marianne would do anything to please him?
3. The first time Connell tells Marianne he loves her, we are told that “She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life” (46).
Do you think Marianne had ever been told that she was loved, in any sense of the word, by anyone before Connell? How can the experience of “first love” transform a person’s self-image and view of the world?
4. In Normal People, Marianne only barely opens up to Connell about her relationship with her family—how her father had been violent when he was alive, how her brother verbally and physically attacks her, and how her mother essentially forbids her to believe that she is “special” in any way.
How does Marianne’s family influence her opinion of herself and affect her relationships with other people? How does she attempt to distance herself from her family? And how does Connell’s upbringing compare and contrast to Marianne’s?
5. When they move from the countryside to attend college in Dublin, there is somewhat of a role reversal between Connell and Marianne. Connell, once popular in secondary school, is scrutinized and mocked at Trinity College for his fashion sense and thick Galway accent, and he is even called a “milk-drinking culchie” (154). Marianne on the other hand, herself from a wealthy family, moves at ease through an elitist social scene.
How do class dynamics affect Connell and Marianne in Dublin? How do their reactions to class prejudice and snobbery shade your view of them as characters?
6. How would you describe the power that Connell and Marianne hold over each other? Did you notice a power relation shift and evolve between them over the years? How might it have had both positive and negative effects in different moments?
7. Despite being so close, Connell and Marianne sometimes miscommunicate and misinterpret each other. This can be seen when Connell, unable to pay rent in Dublin, moves back to Carricklea to save money during the summer of 2012, after he fails to directly ask Marianne if he can move in with her.
How does the structure of Normal People, oscillating between the experiences of both characters during this time, reveal the ways in which they misunderstood each other? How do you think their relationship would have turned out differently if Connell had stayed with Marianne that summer?
8. As the narrative progresses, Marianne becomes increasingly submissive in her sexual encounters with other people. Why do you think she is so repulsed by Lukas during “the game” when he tells her that he loves her (203)? Does she try to separate love from sex? Why do you think she later asks Connell if he will hit her during sex, and why does she shut down when he declines?
9. Both Marianne and Connell undergo certain crises of meaning during their later years in college. For instance, Marianne becomes increasingly dissociated from herself and from other people when she is studying in Sweden, and Connell suffers from depression after his friend Rob commits suicide.
Do you think that people are generally more vulnerable to internal crises and mental health issues in their late teens and early twenties? Why or why not? What are the most important support systems and coping mechanisms for someone going through such a difficult time, and do you think that Connell and Marianne find them in Normal People?
10. Connell is disillusioned by the contrived and stale performances he witnesses during a reading at Trinity College Dublin. Consider the following quote:
“It was culture as class performance, literature fetishized for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys. . . . All books were ultimately marketed as status symbols, and all writers participated to some degree in this marketing. Presumably this was how the industry made money. Literature, in the way it appeared at these public readings, had no potential as a form of resistance to anything” (228).
Do you agree with this assessment? What kind of “resistance” do you think Connell has in mind? Were you surprised to find such a critique in a recently published book? Do you think that by illuminating prejudices and injustices, as well as commonalities that exist between people, literature might still serve an important social purpose? You might illustrate your answers by pointing to passages from Normal People or by referencing other books that have been released in the past few years.
11. In an interview with The New Yorker, Sally Rooney mentioned that “A lot of critics have noticed that my books are basically nineteenth-century novels dressed up in contemporary clothing.” Would you agree with this comment? How might Normal People and Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends, be compared, structurally and thematically, to nineteenth-century romantic literature?
12. Despite the magnetic attraction that persists between Connell and Marianne, they are never officially “together” in this book. Considering the highs and lows they each go through over the years, do you think that they could have ever had a normatively structured boyfriend-girlfriend relationship? Did reading this novel lead you to question why we tend to put rigid labels on our relationships?
13. At the end of Normal People, when Connell is offered a place in an MFA program in New York, Marianne thinks, “He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another” (273).
In what ways did you see Marianne and Connell change each other’s lives? How did they find parts of themselves in and through each other? Do you worry about what could happen to Marianne without Connell? Or do you think it might be important for them to spend time apart and grow independently after college?
14. At times, we see that Marianne considers herself intrinsically damaged, unlovable, and “bad.” In other words, she believes that she will never be a normal person.
Having read about their innermost insecurities, feelings of alienation, sexual drives, desires, and so on, do you think that Connell and Marianne are any more or less “normal” than other people? What qualifies a person as normal, and do you think that such a completely normal person can exist?
Joanna's Outline to Compare and Contrast:
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.
For years, rumors of the "Marsh Girl" have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life--until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over and co-creator of the HBO series Game of Thrones, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival — and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.
During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.
By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, the New York Times bestseller City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie at Heidi Reynaud's on Thursday 1/31 at 6:00.
Questions for Discussion
1. If Thomas Jefferson’s wife hadn’t died, how might he and his daughter have lived different lives? Historically, Jefferson is said to have made a deathbed promise to his wife, and in the novel his daughter makes one as well. How might their lives have differed if they hadn’t made those deathbed promises?
2. As portrayed in the novel and in their letters to each other, how would you describe Jefferson and Patsy’s relationship with each other? Was Jefferson a good father? Did he change as a father over the course of the novel? Was Patsy a good daughter?
3. Does seeing Jefferson through his daughter’s eyes make him more relatable as a Founding Father? How so or why not?
4. The limited choices women had available to them in the Revolutionary era is one theme explored in this book. What were the most important choices Patsy made throughout her life? Do you agree with why she made them? Could or should she have chosen differently?
5. What did you think of Sally’s choice to return to Virginia with Jefferson? Why did she make that decision? What were her alternatives and how viable were they?
6. Another theme explored in this book is sacrifice. What does Patsy sacrifice in her effort to protect her father? What did Jefferson sacrifice? What did Sally sacrifice? What did William Short sacrifice?
7. Why does Patsy think her father needs to be protected? Why does she think she is the only one to do it? In what ways does she protect him? What do you think of Patsy’s effort to protect Jefferson? Would you have done the same thing?
8. How are Patsy’s views on slavery portrayed in this novel? What factors influence her thinking? How do her views differ from her father’s or from William Short’s?
9. Why did Patsy decide to marry Thomas Mann Randolph Jr.? How would you describe their relationship and how did their relationship change over time?
10. Why can’t or won’t Patsy cry? Why does she finally cry in the final scene at Monticello?
11. Do you agree with William that Monticello was “a set of chains”? Why not or how so? Were you on William’s or Patsy’s side during their fight in the final scene at Monticello?
12. In what ways did Patsy shape her father’s legacy? In what ways did she shape our own? In what ways is she America’s First Daughter?
In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.
From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still.
As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.
It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age.
Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protege William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.
Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
And don't miss On the Come Up, Angie Thomas's powerful follow-up to The Hate U Give.
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