Abraham Lincoln's sacrifice
At the beginning of his term, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was one of the most unpopular presidents in the history of the United States. He took office in March 1861, pressured by both the slave South and the Yankee oligarchies of the North, in a fratricidal Civil War. When everything seemed to have reached the limit of the bearable, things got worse. On February 20, 1862, his third son, William Wallace Lincoln, died of typhoid fever at the age of 11. Willie was the only one of his four children that Lincoln saw as a follower of his political mission. In the boy's antics and character he identified his own image, both reflected in the past and projected into the future. He was also attached to his other children, Tad, Edward and Robert (everyone would end up getting involved in politics). But Willie would be his successor.
Willie's death created a commotion. The mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, went into perpetual mourning. For weeks, Lincoln did not remember the existence of the country that needed its leadership. He canceled his appointments, fell silent, and retired to the Oak Ridge cemetery chapel in Springfield to embrace Willie's body. People who watched the president's nightly raids interpreted them as supernatural, or lunatic, journeys. There remained testimonies from relatives, friends, colleagues, religious and government officials.
Obsessed with the never clarified episode, George Saunders reconstructed the facts in the book “Lincoln no Limbo” (Lincoln in the Bardo), launched by Companhia das Letras, in translation by Jorio Dauster. It is the first novel by the 58-year-old Texan writer who has been devoted to the tale until then. For the long narrative, Saunders used not the usual biography or novel, but devised a peculiar method: he cut and pasted the testimonies of the time to assemble a panel of contrasting and complementary voices, while still tempering them with imagination and symbolism.
In the fable, Willie and Abraham begin to live in an undefined universe, which Saunders calls “bard”: the state between death and resurrection of Tibetan Buddhism. Lincoln lives a rite of passage there. The journey to the dead makes him rethink attitudes and boost his reputation, in a reworking of the image that would make him popular. His murder crowned him as the martyr of the country. "In the past five years, Lincoln has experienced incredible spiritual and moral growth," he says. The writer's finding was to boost reality with fantastic ingredients. These traits were part of the reports of a time when people believed in spectra. They were sure that the boy's soul refused to disincarnate, because Lincoln wouldn't let him. "I put the legends of ghosts and historical material on the same plane," says Saunders. "It is a path as legitimate as that of conventional narratives."
Critics see his work as a model for account of narratives that amplify reality, instead of reducing it. It is an appropriate type of text to fix the truth in times of multiple discourses, media and visions. The masterful innovation earned Saunders the 2017 Man Booker Prize, one of the most important in the English language.
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