In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other, for no one but Saunders could conceive it.
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln's beloved 11-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. "My poor boy, he was too good for this earth," the president says at the time. God has called him home. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy's body.
From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic historical framework into a thrilling supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie's soul.
The 166-person full cast features award-winning actors and musicians, as well as a number of Saunders' family, friends, and members of his publishing team, including, in order of their appearance:
Nick Offerman as HANS VOLLMAN
David Sedaris as ROGER BEVINS III
Carrie Brownstein as ISABELLE PERKINS
George Saunders as THE REVEREND EVERLY THOMAS
Miranda July as MRS. ELIZABETH CRAWFORD
Lena Dunham as ELISE TRAYNOR
Ben Stiller as JACK MANDERS vJulianne Moore as JANE ELLIS
Susan Sarandon as MRS. ABIGAIL BLASS
Bradley Whitford as LT. CECIL STONE
Bill Hader as EDDIE BARON
Megan Mullally as BETSY BARON
Rainn Wilson as PERCIVAL “DASH” COLLIER
Jeff Tweedy as CAPTAIN WILLIAM PRINCE
Kat Dennings as MISS TAMARA DOOLITTLE
Jeffrey Tambor as PROFESSOR EDMUND BLOOMER
Mike O’Brien as LAWRENCE T. DECROIX
Keegan-Michael Key as ELSON FARWELL
Don Cheadle as THOMAS HAVENS
and Patrick Wilson as STANLEY “PERFESSER” LIPPERT
with Kirby Heyborne as WILLIE LINCOLN,
Mary Karr as MRS. ROSE MILLAND,
and Cassandra Campbell as Your Narrator.
©2017 George Saunders (P)2017 Audible, Ltd
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"Emperors new clothes"
I think this may be a book everybody raves about because somebody clever wrote it and the critics say it's great. It's not great. It's boring and pseudo-intellectual. Like a spoof of a really clever book. Maybe you have to be American to get it. Can I have my money back please? I feel like I was conned by all the rave reviews.
"A stunning memento mori"
A stunning, surreal, and sometimes almost unbearably moving meditation on the human condition. The audio version with its faintly barking dog, cawing crows, sighing wind, period music and with every one of the 166 narrators perfect and distinctive, is a tour de force. They say that more books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than about any other historical person apart from Jesus Christ. Was there ever a man as tragic and noble as Lincoln? Sublime.
"Profound, moving, inventive - superlatives apply"
This is an amazingly inventive book, beautifully written and I suspect will stay with me. The audiobook is simply marvellous: David Sedaris is as always tremendous.
You won't find a more original, more moving book this year.
"Brilliant writing, perfect performances"
Saunders' first novel is as empathic and funny as his short stories, if grander and sadder. With its multiple narrators, the novel is especially suited to a full cast audiobook. The distinctive performances of Offerman and Sedaris, given the most lines, are perfect for their roles.
"Epic contemporary Shakespearean tragedy"
George Saunder's epic historical and existential tragedy seems to resonate on many levels with a variety of readers. Taking the real life account of the death of Abraham Lincoln's son, exploring his grief and creating a magical realistic theatrical piece is a true wonder.
It's a listening experience for all the senses, with the beautiful music and sounds of the Civil War, as well as a host of well known voices - it's haunting in many aspects. The language is rich and variable mixing Shakespearean dialogue with modern slang.
Where it falls short are the constant breaks in the novel through footnotes describing the actual factual account of that time. It is jarring and ruins the experience - it should be left to the end and is only valid when reading. In this case Saunders sounds timid, having to constantly back up his claims. It would have been five stars, but it happened too often.
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