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Bardo or Not Bardo

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  97 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
"Irreducible to any single literary genre, the Volodinian cosmos is skillfully crafted, fusing elements of science fiction with magical realism and political commentary."—Nicholas Hauck, Music & Literature

One of Volodine's funniest books, Bardo or Not Bardo takes place in his universe of failed revolutions, radical shamanism, and off-kilter nomenclature.

In each of thes
Paperback, 165 pages
Published April 12th 2016 by Open Letter (first published August 28th 2004)
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Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Oh great, yet another novella of linked stories that mixes apocalyptic revolutionary politics and esoteric Tibetan mythology around a witty, Beckettian sense of bemusement at the funny weird violent sexy sweet tragedy of human existence. The gall of this Volodine fellow, to think that there's any kind of stories left to tell about socialist secret agent monks hunting each other through dreamworlds and contemplating the mysteries of a pointless death in an absurd world. Is there anything original ...more
J.T. Mahany
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Je demande d'abord pardon aux lecteurs francophones, car cette critique sera en anglais.)

To say "this is a book about death" feels trite. Most or at least many books about death focus on the emotional aftermath from the perspective of the survivors. When the deceased's point-of-view is included, it is usually laden with pathos, looking back into the world of the quick to observe the survivors' emotional aftermath and ruminate on things left undone. Closure is usually eventually reached.

Not so i
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it

Hitherto the word Bardo conjured up either
• a museum in Tunisia that suffered a barbaric uncivilised terrorist attack or
• an iconic French actress whose name is forever associated with St Tropez
I had forgotten about that other realm contained within the Tibetan Book of the Dead - in which the deceased have 49 days in limbo before rebirth. This is the strange void where the 7 connected stories in this book take place.
There are several things that attracted me to this book
1. Its brevity. 165 pa
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016
This guy, this Volodine. It's quite a run, or anyway seems to be from the English-speaker POV. I haven't really dug in to see whether these are being released in anything like the order AV wrote them.

This one felt like it might not quite pack the punch. Still good, still funny and strange. But somehow it wasn't quite pushing the same buttons in quite the same perfect way. Then, somewhere around the end of the 4th story, when you started to realize (just like in the middle of We Monks and Soldier
Oct 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo (translated by J.T. Mahany) is another book for the “what the fuck did I just read?” files. The summary on Goodreads makes sense: seven chapters show seven different characters (many of them named Schlumm) fail to achieve enlightenment while traveling through bardo and end up being reincarnated back on earth. I was initially attracted to this book because the review I read said this book was a humorous take on characters struggling in bardo; I was hoping for ...more
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My faith in Volodine is restored - after somewhat disappointing "Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven" (a novel that theorized itself into insubstantiality). "Bardo or not Bardo" is his most impoverished (in a positive - Bersani's - sense), most depopulated and most "Irish" novel: imagine Flann O'Brien and Samuel Beckett collaborating on 7 variations of the final scene(s) from Fulci's THE BEYOND and Tolkin's THE RAPTURE.
I'm not going to rate this book because it just wasn't for me. The references to the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Buddhist funeral practices were interesting, but the stories just seemed absurd and beyond me as far as "getting" them. I read them all, and none of them clicked.
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, translation
as a neophyte in post-exotic volodinia, i'm still finding my bearings (much as those newly arrived in the bardo might do). for the fellow uninitiated, volodine's two-part essay in the new inquiry is essential reading. the pseudonymous/heteronymous french writer has set out for himself the ambitious task of creating an entire literary universe (a la pessoa via oulipo) and the story of said ambition is as compelling as his fiction is intriguing.

bardo or not bardo is a tragicomic take on fate, con
Ned Frederick
Jul 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
Few Buddhists would object to any good-hearted challenge to the Dharma. Even as esoteric yet revered a text as the Bardo Thidol, would be expected to hold its own in debate, or, to embrace a challenge. But this book just seems to me to be a thinly-veiled attempt to ridicule an ancient revered text and the practicing Buddhists who carry on the traditions associated with easing passage through the Bardo. It was inventive and funny in spots, especially in the first story, and accurate, again, in sp ...more
surreal series of stories set in the Bardo, the waiting room between death and rebirth where Buddhists have the chance to cast off themselves and physical existence, or within 49 days they are reborn to suffer through another lifetime

various characters pass through the state, as lamas preach to their bodies or artifacts from the Bardo Thodol, in attempt to push them towards that sublimation

fascinating concept, but with characters and story lines intermingled and indefinite to the point where it
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The world as a black iron prison, please Mr. Volodine I want some more!?
Joshua Porter
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As unclassifiable as Volodine's other work, breathes new life into several genres, including whatever genre the Tibetan book of the dead falls into.
This book is a kind of metaphysical game that nearly led me to an existential crisis... But in a good way! It's funny, it's weird, it's a joy to read, and it's a challenge to any notion we might have of control, comfort, or concrete understanding of death. It's also impossible to describe without spoilers--though I don't think the concept of spoilers really apply to this book--but, still, beware of spoilers ahead.

This set of connected vignettes follows characters in a warped form of the Tibetan
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
A spiritual farce? A human comedy? A satiric view of the absurdity of humans? All of the above? Volodine takes a belief regarding the afterlife and demonstrates that humans, with their foibles, cannot manage to navigate it without total chaos ensuing. The author even takes a stab at the "play within a play" concept. Three vignettes within one vignette. It is a jumbled life, a jumbled afterlife, and a bit of a jumbled read. Very well done!
World Literature Today
Check out our full list of Summer Reads at

This book was featured also in the Nota Benes section of the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of World Literature Today Magazine.
Jul 02, 2016 rated it liked it
More accurately, 2.5. This was okay, but I was expecting to enjoy it more. There a few funny bits, but it mostly felt absurd and fell kind of flat. I have a feeling that the translation wasn't that great.
May 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you have no taste for Volodine then you will feel that you too are on an interminable journey through some dark bardo realm. Conversely, if you find post-exotic lit oddly compelling, then read this one.
I reviewed this novel for "Music & Literature":
rated it liked it
Jun 16, 2016
rated it liked it
May 07, 2016
rated it really liked it
Dec 08, 2017
Mike  Fasso
rated it it was ok
Jul 14, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Dec 14, 2015
rated it really liked it
Aug 16, 2017
rated it it was ok
Mar 16, 2016
Cathy Gulkin
rated it really liked it
Sep 07, 2016
Jeff collins
rated it really liked it
May 14, 2016
rated it it was amazing
Sep 17, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Jan 10, 2018
rated it really liked it
Nov 12, 2016
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Antoine Volodine is the primary pseudonym of a French author. Some of his books have been published in sf collections, but his style, which he has called "post-exoticism", does not fit neatly into any common genre.

He publishes under several additional pseudonyms, including Lutz Bassmann and Manuela Draeger.
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