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I've not listened to many books but it's hard to imagine one that could be more entertaining than Lincoln. The actors speaking for the characters make the story seem more like a play. A truly wonderful play.
The images that are conjured up by George Saunders are so vivid ,heartbreaking , and comical at the same time. This book found me when I was beginning my journey of grief over the sudden loss of my 35 year old disabled daughter. The scene in the beginning where the spirit of Willy is standing with his father with his arm around his him comforting him gave me comfort and made me feel that my daughter was sitting close to me with her arm around me.
It also gave me a glimmer of hope that if President Lincoln could endure this terrible loss and go on eventually with his life maybe so could I. It's been 6 months now and I've listened to the book gradually during these months and just finished it tonight. This book has been one of the most important pieces of my healing. My deepest thanks to George Saunders for this precious gift.
Betty Reardon Vance
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
I'll preface my review with some information that might be helpful to those struggling with the presentation of this little novel: Much has, and will be written about the style Saunders has chosen for this magnificent and ground breaking novel. In 1959, ( Mr. Sanders was 1 yr. old) neuroscientist/psychologist Bela Julesz had the idea that depth perception happened in the brain, and not in the eye itself and decided to test people’s ability to see in 3D. Thus was born the bane of the ocularly-challenged, the autostereogram: "a single-image stereogram, designed to create the visual illusion of a three-dimensional (3D) scene from a two-dimensional image"...consequently released to the public in the '90's as Magic Eye Pictures. You remember...you stared, crossed your eyes, fretted -- and then POP! The mysterious picture revealed itself hovering above a flat kaleidoscope of colors.
Earbuds secured, listening to the multi-cast presentation of this book, I thought of those pictures; waiting for the image to pop, ready to throw in the towel at the babble of voices and interjected references that flooded into my head. My mind felt 2 steps behind my ears...and then abruptly, the glorious pop and flow of clarity. Another dimension whirled around me and swept me into a story with dimensions I've never known before. Yes, it is a little reminiscent of the Greek chorus; a bit similar in effect to Scrooge standing with a spirit from another time, immersed in the gossamer voices and images while his head was still in the present. Point is...this series of incorporeal monologues works, be patient (no crossing your eyes needed). Even current-day biographer Doris Kearns Goodwins is represented, her book quoted by a graveyard spirit.
Where is The Bardo? You might ask. The bardo is a Tibetan term that refers to an in between state, a transitional state, and in the case of Lincoln at the Bardo, the state between life and death for Willie, the state of decision for a president to press on with a horrible civil war or choose to end that war whose body count in the first year was already into the thousands. Saunders, one of America's most acclaimed and intelligent writers, and a student of Buddhist philosophy, ponders: "What state of mind would a man be in at 12:45 a.m., on a cold February night, five minutes after he's seen and held his dead son's body?" [G. Saunders for TIME,Feb 16, 2017]
Willie, 11 yrs. old, has died of Typhoid fever. Lincoln's second child to pass away. At the foot of the "huge carved rosewood bed," [the *Lincoln Bed"] Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave who washed and dressed the little body, observed the gray-face President, "his tall frame convulsed with emotion. I shall never forget those solemn moments -- genius and greatness weeping over love's idol lost." The body was moved to the family vault of the clerk of the Supreme Court, William and wife Sallie Carroll. Alone, late at night after the funeral, the father lifts the coffin lid and puts his arms around the body of his dead son. Around him the Voices in utter surprise at this contact begin calling out to each other their monologues. The reader observes the scene, the voices coming in as if from a gauzy curtain in front of the tomb. Saunders' chorus of ghostly voices begin their requiem for Willie, and for Lincoln. *This is where the confusion, or frustration for some listeners, becomes a manner of sticking with it until the Magic Eyes picture appears and the voices flow in a smooth synchronicity with the story.
A word about the Voices. Saunders explained the process of producing the effect of the chorus in an interview with TIME. He and the Penguin Random House team auditioned and cast 166 actors for the parts needed to voice Lincoln at the Bardo for the audio version. BRAVO! to each and every one of them for their performance and unison of spirit. Each voice in this chorus is rich in character, the words chosen, the voice inflections, the way they embellish, their distractions and emotions all sketching in their character when they were alive. It's wonderful fun; it's heartbreaking. There's the lechers, the snobs, the criminals, the homosexual, and references to those who still cannot speak of the horrors that drove them to death, all caught in their own dialogues that keep them from passing into an afterlife. They recant the actual daily headlines and hearsay. Though sourced, the facts often contradict each other..."it was a clear sunny day"..."there was a violent storm"...""the president shook with agony..."was profoundly moved by his death, though he gave no outward sign of his trouble". In one passage that struck me, the spirits move through the body of Lincoln to pull him back to the Georgetown cemetery. An African American specter says that he [Lincoln] passed through her and she "was glad, his burden to hard to share" if she lingered there. The audio version is a rare gift to readers, a fuller experience than only reading the text. Even though, I immediately purchased the text. This story is at the same time agonizing, humorous, and beautifully wise.
Saunders is a joy to read; a writer's writer that can call out the harshest conflict with such compassion that he seems to be testifying this love for all of humanity like a loving and wise teacher. He fits into my consciousness like a crystalline tool, harmonizing my thoughts and my feelings with his perfect words. I must be a sight to see when I'm listening...my head shakes and nods, I smile, I wince, and sometimes I feel a tear, cold from it's travel down my cheek, drip onto my shoulder. His sophisticated prose unflinchingly captures the voice of our culture often soaring close to poetry. Lincoln at the Bardo has become my favorite book, right now at least, for the breadth of feelings it invoked in me. It is immersive and thoughtful..."pushing our aversions into the light" with grace and compassion for our human frailties. There are some that this won't appeal to, but for those that are considering this one...don't waste another second. This is epic.
These words and their message feel like they came from the heart of the man that wrote "Four score and seven years ago...." This kind of writing is why I read.
"His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact…We must try to see one another in this way…As suffering, limited beings…Perennially outmatched by circumstance, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces…And yet…Our grief must be defeated; it must not become our master, and make us ineffective…We must, to do the maximum good, bring the thing to its swiftest halt and…Kill more efficiently…Must end suffering by causing more suffering…His heart dropped at the thought of the killing…"
184 of 215 people found this review helpful