Bardo or Not Bardo

Antoine Volodine, trans. from the French by J.T. Mahany. Open Letter, $13.95 trade paper (162p) ISBN 978-1-940953-33-5
The afterlife is just as senseless, erratic, and cruel as life itself in Volodine's darkly funny novel-in-stories, set in and around the Bardo—in Tibetan Buddhism, a realm through which the spirits of the recently dead travel, toward either rebirth and suffering or transcendence through "fusion with the Clear Light." The living offer guidance during this dangerous journey by reading aloud from the Bardo Thödol, but ineptitude reigns across all worlds. In "Last Stand Before the Bardo," an incompetent assassin reads to his victim from "an anthology of surrealist aphorisms" instead, while the dead soldier in "Glouchenko" spends his time in the Bardo napping instead of "concentrating... on the means of... liberation," and as a result is reborn as a macaque. The intricacies and intrigues of Communist cells are parodied in "Schlumm" and "Puffky," in which two members of "The Organization," each believing himself to be tasked with eliminating the other, are actually stuck in the Bardo together, baffled and disoriented, losing track of their individual identities. The merging of Buddhist ideas of transcendence and communist striving toward utopia yields poignancy in "Dadokian" and "At the Bardo Bar," as a jailed revolutionary, a madman, and an unfunny clown all find themselves forming unlikely friendships. In the Bardo or out of it, "each of us is mired in his own awful dream," and in Volodine's universe of echoes, phantoms, and repetition, these temporary bonds are the only genuine reality. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/04/2016
Release date: 04/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 162 pages - 978-1-940953-42-7
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