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June 2018: Magical Realism > Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders - 4 stars

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message 1: by Barbara M (new)

Barbara M (barbara-m) | 2300 comments What an interesting, and confusing at first, structure to this unique novel. The setting of the story is almost entirely in a cemetery. The chapters switch between things going on with the "people" living in the Bardo (which seems to be a half-way place between earth and the hereafter) and excerpts from documents (both primary and secondary) telling what happened in the world to lead us to this place. This was quite confusing at first but once I got the hang of it, I understood.

There was a touch of black comedy in that the residents of the Bardo seemed to be those who had not accepted that they'd died. One character in particular insisted on calling his tomb a "sick house" and "sick bed or box" because he was so looking forward to consummating his marriage to his young wife. The story is quite bawdy at times too. Two of the characters can't seem to get out a single sentence without multiple expletives.

It is a sad story also dealing with the death of Willie Lincoln and the anguish it caused his parents, his father in particular. The grief is palatable.

The amount of research into this book must have been huge with all the document excerpts. For me it really highlighted how, even with primary works, things can be reported so differently. In one section several sources claimed, there was full-moon, it was a dark and moonless night, the moon glowed silver, or blue, or yellow. As an historian myself (sounds pretty grand, but I do have a degree in History) I found that to be very accurate!

The audio itself is wonderfully unique. I've never known of so many narrators on one book, many of them very recognizable voices.


message 2: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments I was also struck by how much research must have gone into this book! I do not own a lot of books, but it is one that I wouldn't mind getting in paper back just to review some of those excerpts that you mention that illustrate the differences in memories.

The audio was great! I have found that I am a big fan of Nick Offerman as a narrator. I did have to follow along in the book (library) as I listened though because of the unique structure.

The more time that passes since I finished this book, the more I truly appreciate this endeavor by the author.


message 3: by Jgrace (new)

Jgrace | 3112 comments I saw Saunders and Kelly Gildea at the LA Times book festival, talking about the audio production. They started wanting multiple narrators and as I remember, she suggested they try for a different performer for each source. She kept a spread sheet. They said the first 60 voices were fairly easy to come up with, but they needed 166! Saunders said even his mother did a line or two in there somewhere.

I love the point you made about primary sources reporting differently. That seemed to be what Saunders was inflicting on his characters. They were so trapped in their own narrow misperceptions of their own lives, they weren't able to move on.


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