George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo Audiobooktext
We are in February 1862, in the midst of the Civil War. In Washington, Abraham Lincoln has just lost his son William (in reality even if the novel does not allude to it, it is his second deceased child, the first having died in 1850 at the age of 4). Ravaged by grief, Willie being his favorite son, he manages to escape in the middle of the night to go to Oak Hill cemetery where the little boy rests. Unable to bring himself to see him disappeared, he goes so far as to open his grave to take him in his arms and talk to him. George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo Audiobook.
But, while speaking to his deceased son, Lincoln sets off a host of reactions in the cemetery among the occupants of the premises, under the gaze and comments of three men, three witnesses who will keep coming back throughout the pages. : Roger Bevins, Hans Vollman and Reverend Everly Thomas. Three deceased of course, except that like all the spirits of Oak Hill, they do not know it or even refuse to admit it. They are in what they call their suffering chamber, despairing that their family and friends no longer come to see them, dreaming of a return to normal, hence the title of the novel. the bardo, according to Tibetan Buddhist teaching, designates an intermediate mental state, in this precise case between life and death. And if a young boy of just 12 years old receives a visit from a member of his family, moreover, the president himself, isn’t he right to hope that everyone will finally hear from their loved ones? absent for too long? Everyone hurries to Willie Lincoln’s grave, wanting at all costs to narrate the setbacks of his existence, as if the fact of pouring out their misfortunes brought them closer to their previous existence. Finally, the wisest and most awake of all will prove to be the last to arrive, this little boy torn from his parents’ affection, who will be the first to understand what has become of him and why he is there. Suddenly leading to the awareness of dozens of minds blocked in this “intermediate phase” in a gigantic mess invisible to the eyes of the living.
Let’s say it right away, Lincoln at the Bardo is not an easily accessible book. Winner of the prestigious Booker Prize in 2017, crowned number 1 in sales of the New York Times with more than 600,000 copies, it is necessarily intriguing by its subject, and its editorial design: we could roughly divide it into two parts which are inserted regularly. On the one hand, the characters from the cemetery are presented as in a play, their name mentioned below each text. On the other hand, the events of that fateful night, from the perspective of those who worked with Lincoln during that time. It is this part which is more difficult to follow, Georges Sanders presenting each paragraph as an extract of a text borrowed from a novel or a testimony, real or fictional, which sometimes gives rise to multiple repetitions or contradictions (the example the most striking being the description of Lincoln’s physique and character, which constantly varies from paragraph to paragraph, making it quite difficult to read). This is also where the author’s prowess lies, managing to bring so many characters to life without ever mixing or confusing them and giving them an existence of their own. And an emotion that culminates in the exchanges between Lincoln and his deceased son, the young Willie not understanding why his father does not hear him and does not answer him. George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo Audiobook.
In the end, Georges Saunders succeeds in a brilliant and very original book, as I have seldom read. A novel all the more astonishing in that it is called experimental, Saunders being basically more of an essayist and a short story writer, and, as he himself says, he has long been afraid of the idea of l ‘to write. He oversaw its audiobook adaptation, with a host of actresses and actors such as Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Susan Sarandon, and Ben Stiller. A book for those who are not afraid to risk stepping out of their literary comfort. I would like to thank Editions Fayard and Alina Gurdiel of the Press Service for their trust, for sending the novel and the very complete press review file in English that accompanied it.