Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders; Reviewed by Chris, Librarian at Bridgewater Library
I listened to George Saunders’ Lincoln In The Bardo. It was really more of an experience than anything. The book was written as quotes from different characters and/or history books, with 166 different characters in all. The audiobook was done as a full cast (I don’t know that they had 166 different people, but there sure were a lot I looked and apparently they did). The characters interrupt each other regularly and have their own perspectives on everything, and I’m impressed Saunders managed to keep it all straight in his head when writing the book.
(I also thought that David Sedaris sounded like an old woman, which was an interesting choice for an apparently male character, but apparently that’s just his voice?)
The book itself is ostensibly about Willie Lincoln dying at a early age of typhoid fever and going to an in-between place (the titular bardo), not fully willing to give up his life, and his father’s grief at his young son’s passing at this already terrible point in history. It is more about death, and grief, and how we handle ourselves in trying circumstances. Some stories are amusing, some are heartwrenching. There are a couple of characters that are obviously just there as comic relief, and others that make you really consider the misery of the time (and perhaps how little has changed). The historical anecdotes (some real, some fictional) show how Lincoln was viewed during the lenses of his time and retrospect, and I wonder if other presidents currently seen as miserable failures will be seen in a brighter light in later years?
The audiobook clocks in at 7.5 hours and it is fairly absorbing and worth listening to. Each character is introduced by name after they talk for the first time, but after their initial introduction, the listener has to be able to identify them by their voices (which are usually, at least, fairly distinct). I flipped through the print book and I think the presentation works better with the full cast.