The beginning of the 19th century was a tumultuous and unstable time for French politics. By 1830, the once thriving monarchy had endured multiple rounds of rebellion marked by terror, political unrest, and macabre guillotine executions. As a child of the aristocracy, Olivier de Garmont is in danger. He travels to the nascent United States of America with an English servant named Parrot to study the American penal system and to escape the inevitable threat to his survival amid revolutionary France. Parrot and Olivier in America is narrated by Humphrey Bower, who voices both travelers in a dual narrative, equally satisfying both Olivier’s flowery French accent and Parrot’s brawny English one.
in Parrot and Olivier in America, we are able to see what the United States was like in its first 50 years though the eyes of the two protagonists. Theirs is an unlikely partnership: Parrot is a struggling printer approaching his fifties, while Olivier is an Old World aristocrat a proponent of the system of hierarchy that likely placed Parrot in his current position of poverty. But in the New World, the two find a common ground as they discover the unfamiliar America with impressionable eyes. Bower brings a genuine sense of wonder and curiosity to both visitors, while also contributing to their unique characterizations through tone, inflection, and emotion. While Parrot and Olivier are both discovering America for the first time, their experiences and reactions are quite different.
Parrot and Olivier in America is a breathtaking study of democracy and politics through two unfamiliar perspectives. in Olivier, Peter Carey has developed a fictional character based on Alexis de Tocqueville, 19th-century French political scientist and author of Democracy in America. For those familiar with Tocqueville, Parrot and Olivier in America is a captivating representation of what his travels might have been like. For everyone else, it is an absorbing character study of an unusual pairing as they come to terms with the New World and with one another. Suzanne Day
Olivier, an improvisation on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville, is the traumatized child of aristocratic survivors of the French Revolution. Parrot is the motherless son of an itinerant English printer. Born on different sides of history, their lives will be joined by an enigmatic one-armed marquis.
When Olivier sets sail for the nascent United States, ostensibly to make a study of the penal system but more precisely to save his neck from one more revolution, Parrot will be there, too, as spy for the marquis and as protector, foe, and foil for Olivier.
As the narrative shifts between Parrot and Olivier—their adventures in love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new lands—a most unlikely friendship begins to take hold. And with their story, Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy with dazzling inventiveness.
©2010 Peter Carey (P)2009 Bolinda Publishing Proprietary Liimited; 2010 by Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Remarkably fluent in history, Carey is not beholden to his sources but, rather, empowered to create a thrillingly fresh and incisive drama of extraordinary personalities set during a time of world-altering vision and action." (Booklist)
"Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history." (Publishers Weekly)
“Peter Carey is still the master.” (Washington Post Book Review)
This is a great book to turn to when you feel as if no-one is telling original stories anymore. It will remind you that great writers can recognize compelling stories (with compelling characters, situations, dialogue) everywhere. The narrator is absolutely brilliant as well, and he makes the characters live - especially impressive given that the two main characters could not be more different.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I've never read the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, the 18th century French writer upon whom Carey based the character Olivier, so I can't really comment on this book from that angle. It seems, though, that Carey didn't intend to retread an already-written account of a young nation, but to write a character study. Thus we get Olivier, a haughty, melancholy young French aristocrat still haunted by the ghosts of his country's revolution, and his counterpoint, Parrot, a hard-traveled Englishman who acts as Olivier's not-entirely-willing manservant.
Both are outsiders to America, seeing different things in it. For Olivier, it's a barbaric, uncultured society, driven mainly by a desire for profit. "What if they blindly follow what their newspapers tell them and elect some rube for President?" he asks. Parrot is somewhat more optimistic, seeing the chance for a fresh beginning for himself. The question for the modern reader is, of course, implicit. Will this be a country whose glory blossoms briefly, then ends in George W. Bush and worse? Or are we idealizing an imperfect past and failing to see that America remains a place of opportunity, in spite of its many faults? Carey leaves this question to us.
In terms of writing and voice, Parrot and Olivier is an impeccable novel. I really enjoyed the historical flavor, and can't fault Carey for research and style. A section in which the two men, who don't like each very much, must endure close quarters while crossing the Atlantic, getting to know their new American neighbors in the process, is quite witty. However, the book overall didn't quite live up to my hopes. Carey spends a lot of time defining his characters' separate lives and histories without doing that much with them. I felt like the novel spent so many pages on trips back to the old world, which aren't that crucial to the plot, that it didn't say enough about the new world, or give the two men enough time together.
This is a GREAT BOOK! Towards the middle, the reader discovers the secret to the American spirit and why we're now in a pickle. This book is packed with interesting information and deep characterization, many stories folding into profound realization... Great narrator too - a must read/listen! It was recommended by a guest on Ian Masters' Background Briefing.
An interesting portrayal of period class distinctions and fairly interesting characters. I had trouble caring about them at first, but Humphrey Bower does well in bringing characters to life and has an admirable range of accents. The story starts slow, and the ending is a bit deflated. However, there are a few twists that bring characters together in the end and the body of the story is interesting enough.
Anne in Happy Valley
Unfortunately, I downloaded this for summer beach reading on the strength of an NPR review. It was far too dense for that. Here it is winter and I'm still "reading" it. Moreover, I never found a way to care about the protagonists, Olivier and Parrot. Aside from that, I enjoyed it as an historical novel and it was interesting to re-think Democracy in America as having been written by a snotty, immature and conceited French aristocrat brat, which now I get he undoubtedly was.
After six hours, I threw in the towel. And I used one of my two credits for this! Olivier a spoiled brat and Parrot an abused child - I should have been sympathetic, but it all felt too alien. The only part that was intriguing was Parrot becoming the chamber pot emptier for a poor abused counterfeiter. And I still don't know what this book was suppose to be about. Too long a journey for this listener.
I'd read A True History of the Kelly Gang and was hoping for another gritty down-to earth novel with strong story and vivid characters but this is an unconvincing book about silly people cavorting around in post-revolutionary USA that I had to struggle to get through. Was Alexis de Toqueville really such a silly upper-class git? If so, why choose him as a subject? The simpering fool in this book could not possibly have written Democracy in America and his Quixotic relationship with the Panzaic Parrot, a low-class English printer, never made sense to me. Carey's inventiveness and skill keeps the story moving along but this was one of those books you just kept asking, what's the point--right to the end, unfortunately. The effect wasn't helped by the reader's decision to render all the French-speaking characters in stage-French replete with zisses and zats.
Deeply delightfully intelligent
Parrot, but Olivier was great too.
I didn't want this book to end. The paradox of democracy and the American character has matured but remains unchanged. Fascinating and the writing is absolutely marvelous.
English major. Love to read
I keep thinking I am going to find that something in this book that compels me to want to read on rather than search for another book. I just can't find that spark so I am abandoning it which I rarely do - it's just too spotty in the interest it holds for me. Such a great idea.
Recalling de Toqueville's observations on America from a European view, this is a tale of two very different Europeans' experiences in the new world (Parrot is a person, not a bird). Often humorous and insightful, it does tend to ramble a bit. I was also baffled by the author's treatment of the young American female protagonist whose conduct towards the conclusion of the book makes her seem vain, silly and more than a bit hypocritical--all of which seem quite out of character with her persona to that point of the book. Without spoiling the story, I think that the author could have accomplished his ultimate plot conclusion in a manner more consistent with the rest of the book. An enjoyable read overall, although ultimately a bit unsatisfying.
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