Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

29906980.jpgAfter hearing so much about this book, I was prepared to be disappointed. I was not. Strange, constantly shifting, aways surprising, at turns shocking, baffling, heartbreaking. Saunders turns the world on its head, and yet manages to remain grounded in reality. Once I fell under the spell of his graveyard world of ghosts and not-quite ghosts, a community of almosts and might-have beens with its own rules, magics, and injustices–I could not tear myself away from it. This one-of-a-kind book, part history, part novel, part play, part ghost story–illuminates profound truths about all the things in our own real world that matter. I’ve never read anything like it, but the experimental form never felt contrived or clunky. Rather, it felt like the only way to tell this story.

Saunders asks big questions. What defines us; what shapes us; what is the ultimate worth of our lives; is identity a matter of the personal or the public; what is the nature of grief. Watching Saunders’ cast of characters–both real and imagined–wrestle with these hefty themes is simply breathtaking. On the surface, it’s a book about President Lincoln and his grief on the night his young son dies. Underneath, it’s a book about human nature in all its contradictory glory. Very few books have ever touched me so deeply, in so many ways, have left me as astounded, awed, and cut open as this book did.

The audiobook was stunning. I CANNOT express with words how amazing the audio of this book is. I plan to reread the book in print, but I’m fairly certain that the extraordinary quality of the audio is part of why I loved this book so much. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and for months I’ve been convinced that no audiobook will ever, ever live up to The GoldfinchLincoln in the Bardo proved me wrong. I get excited every time I think about it. It is flawless; a truly superlative production. I am tempted to simply start back at the beginning and listen to the whole thing over again. Just absolutely incredible.

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