“That stillness seemed the most terrifying thing of all. He was on his own now. None could help or hinder him on the profound journey which, it seemed, had now begun.”
I did not know what to expect with this book. I checked it out from the library previously but did not get around to reading it until the Man Booker finalists were announced. I love historical fiction, but this falls into a category all its own. I have never read a book like this. Saunders wins the award for most creativity, but the book did fall flat in some regards for me. The research is impeccable and presented in a new way that grabbed my attention. The history is entwined in the story with direct accounts from people who witnessed the events. It shows the discrepancies in what is remembered and how history can be misconstrued.
With a cast of 166 narrators, the book can be overwhelming at first. Saunders grabs your attention right away with stories from characters in the mysterious Bardo. It reads as a ghost story with historical elements. You will laugh, blush and feel sadness for the President in what must have been a heart wrenching experience. I do not have children. I can’t imagine having to bury one while still maintaining leadership of an entire nation. The weight of the world on his shoulders and watching his every move.
Unfortunately, the afterlife consumes most of the novel. I was more interested in the historical elements which left me a bit disappointed. I was ready for the ending about 50 pages before it came. The people trapped in the afterlife provide insight into the struggles of self and humanity, but I wanted more of the historical side of Willie’s passing. I am curious where the inspiration for the ghosts originated because they are so diverse. Their stories are well developed, and every detail was captured. It begs the question; do we really know we are dead once we pass? If there is an in between, why must we wait? Saunders tackles these issues and more with a book that is worth the read. I believe it will stand the test of time and be read for many generations to come.