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Book of the Week

Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel

Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel
by George Saunders

From BooklistShort-form master Saunders’ debut novel grabs attention with audiobook audacity: a record-breaking cast of 166 voices, showcasing stars including Susan Sarandon and Rainn Wilson as well as expert audio narrators, notably Cassandra Campbell and Kirby Heyborne. Enter an alternate existence where the words of ghostly beings and factual quotes from Abraham Lincoln’s contemporaries eddy through the audible ether in a foggy miasma that conjures Oak Hill Cemetery, where Lincoln’s young son, Willie, has been newly interred in the mausoleum. Over a single evening in 1862, and through flashbacks augmented by passages providing historical context, listeners become enmeshed in the president’s sorrow as he enters the crypt to hold his boy’s body one last time.

Listeners are guided through the graveyard’s bardo (a Tibetan Buddhist post-death, pre-rebirth, indeterminate state) by Offerman as Hans Vollman, Saunders himself as Reverend Thomas, and David Sedaris as Roger Bevins: a trio of snarky, sardonic, sanctimonious spirits who remain tethered to the bardo in a state of bickering boredom. A choir of specters add their observations, from bawdy to mournful, while interspersed throughout are scores of short historical excerpts, each voiced by a different performer. The result is an auditory experience unlike any other, where the awareness of individual voices disappears while the carefully calibrated soundscape summons a metaphysical masterpiece. This is a tour de force of audiobook production, and a dazzling realization of Saunders’ unique authorial structure.

For more about this unique audiobook, check out the Booklist Reader’s series of Lincoln in the Bardo–themed posts, including Mary Burkey’s interview with Saunders and producer Kelly Gildea.

— Mary Burkey

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2 Reviews (You have already submitted a review)

From: PHYLLIS THORPE on 2017-04-16 09:08:00
Continues to resonate--look forward to rereading--deeply absorbing and profoundly clever! That he could take one great insight--the growth and expression of empathy and compassion in Lincoln--and compress it into one moment in time--and express it though these phenomenal characters and historical quotes---!!! A panorama of Americans! It seems to me that he has created a new literary form. As I type this, I am thinking however of AS I LAY DYING.Shades of SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY. Yet unique--this is a brilliant and insightful and absorbing book I encourage all American citizens living at this time to read.

From: Judy Isaacson on 2017-04-15 09:26:07
This is not like any book I have ever read--puts a whole new meaning on the word novel. If you have spent any time wandering between gravestones and those small stone family "houses," then you, too, have wondered what goes on there when you are gone. This book surpasses your imagination. You can feel those vines wrapping and trapping young Will Lincoln. It is written like a play, yet it is not a play. It left me wondering how the book ever could have happened. Most of all, it captures President Lincoln torn by grief.
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