BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Last Word: Audios of Posthumously Published Books [in Booklist]

The one thing in life that’s guaranteed is, well, death. But books are certainly a lasting legacy. And sometimes, when we get the books after their creator has passed on, an audiobook can breathe life into the text, animating from beyond.

Here, we have a handful of these posthumously published titles in their aural incarnations. A bittersweet legacy, indeed, but we’re grateful to have them at all.


Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.” By Zora Neale Hurston. Read by Robin Miles. 2018. 4hr. Harper, CD, $22.99 (9781538519295).

The versatile Miles is as comfortable narrating in a literary historical context as she is effortlessly adopting the vernacular patois of an octogenarian former slave. Published almost 90 years after its completion, Hurston’s account of the life of Oluale Kossola, the next-to-last survivor of the final U.S. slave ship, Clotilda – “as told by himself” – opens with a scholarly introduction by Deborah G. Plant. Kossola’s life, after being enslaved in 1860 at 19 for five years and renamed Cudjo Lewis, continued to be tragic, even after emancipation. Hurston interviewed Kossula in 1927 and again in 1931, their sessions accompanied by shared peaches, watermelons, ham, and blue crab. With patient tenacity, Hurston transforms Kossula’s words into powerful cultural, anthropological, historical, and political testimony. Miles ensures that readers will faithfully and accurately hear every word.


Bog Child. By Siobhan Dowd. Read by Sile Bermingham. 2009. 9hr. Listening Library, CD, $45 (9780739385401). Gr. 8–11.

Although Dowd passed away from breast cancer in 2007, it didn’t prevent her from winning the UK’s Carnegie Medal in 2009 for her final book, Bog Child, published in 2008. Eighteen-year-old Fergus should be studying for his A-level exams, but his family and their community are caught up in the unrest in 1980s Ireland. His older, IRA-sympathizing brother is on a hunger strike in prison, while a former schoolmate bullies Fergus into ferrying mysterious packages. Meanwhile, Fergus has found a body in the hills. Irish actor Bermingham’s lilt is lovely, and choosing a female narrator emphasizes the author’s voice in this novel told predominantly from a teen boy’s point of view. Revealed in flashbacks – through Fergus – the eponymous bog child’s life and murder centuries ago has eerie resonance to the violence-drenched Troubles in Ireland.


I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. By Michelle McNamara. Read by Gabra Zackman, introduction read by Gillian Flynn and afterword by Patton Oswalt. 2018. 10hr. Harper, DD, $26.99 (9780062798695).

Listen quick before HBO brings this to the small screen. Punctuated throughout with reminders that the 46-year-old McNamara died suddenly in 2016 while working on I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, the book combines a phenomenally detailed search for a vicious killer with a journalist’s attempt to understand her own obsessions. Dubbed by McNamara herself as the Golden State Killer, the elusive criminal raped and murdered dozens of victims in the 1970s and ’80s, over more than 10 years, in both Southern and Northern California. Two months after this book’s February 2018 publication, the alleged GSK was arrested. Zackman, the primary narrator, reads the bulk of the book with impressive gravitas. The audio begins with another true-crime obsessive, Gillian Flynn, introducing McNamara, and ends with McNamara’s husband, actor Patton Oswalt, reading the solemn epilogue.


Evening in Paradise: More Stories. By Lucia Berlin. Read by Kyla Garcia. 2018. 9hr. Blackstone, CD, $34.95 (9781538586723).

Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women (2015) collected 43 of the 77 stories the author had completed before her 2004 death, and its success made her an overnight, albeit posthumous, literary sensation. Evening offers 22 more stories, presented in approximate chronological order, mirroring Berlin’s own peripatetic adventures: Texas, New Mexico, and New York all provide backdrops, and three husbands (a sculptor, a pianist, and a charismatic drug addict) make appearances in the stories. Garcia, part of the six-reader cast for Manual, returns solo here, her voice sounding age 7, 17, or like someone’s grandfather; adapting Spanish, Syrian, and New York accents; channeling new mothers or weary middle-aged men. Berlin’s storytelling prowess lives on in this unconventional and unforgettable audiobook.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. By Stieg Larsson. Read by Simon Vance. 2010. 20hr. Books on Tape, CD, $40 (9780307735010).

Larsson’s megaselling Millennium trilogy (all three volumes were published in the U.S. after the author’s death) makes for days’ worth of entertaining listening, thanks to the ever-popular Vance. Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist publisher of Millennium magazine who’s made a mess of his career, finds his ideal partner in the eponymous “girl,” Lisbeth Salander, an unpredictable amalgam of immeasurable talents. She’s been brutalized and undergone unspeakable horrors, but she has survived. Her tiny size belies her fierceness, which proves well matched against Blomkvist’s ego. In one of the many articles about Larsson, he recounts his never-ending guilt over witnessing, at 15, the gang rape of a young girl whose name happened to be Lisbeth. He didn’t, or couldn’t, help her then. Decades later, through his vivid imagination, he enables another Lisbeth to save herself, over and over and over again. David Lagercrantz resurrected the Blomkvist-Salander duo in 2015 – with Vance continuing as narrator – so now the trilogy has become an ongoing series.


When Breath Becomes Air. By Paul Kalanithi. Read by Sunil Malhotra and Cassandra Campbell. 2016. 5.5hr. Books on Tape, CD, $45 (9780399566189).

Neurosurgeon Kalanithi, who died in March 2015 from lung cancer at the age of 37, was, by all accounts, an exceptional human being. This posthumous release – part memoir, part reflections on mortality – becomes, in effect, an exquisite treatise on how to live. Malhotra, who reads the body of the book, delivers a moving performance, but Campbell’s narration of the heartbreaking epilogue by Kalanithi’s widow, Lucy, may well be her best work yet.

Published: “The Last Word: Audios of Posthumously Published Books,” Booklist Online, April 29, 2019


1 Comment

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.