From the two-time Booker Prizewinning author comes an irrepressibly funny new novel set in early nineteenth-century America.
Olivieran improvisation on the life of Alexis de Tocquevilleis the traumatized child of aristocratic survivors of the French Revolution. Parrot is the motherless son of an itinerant English printer. They are born on different sides of history, but their lives will be connected by an enigmatic one-armed marquis.
When Olivier sets sail for the nascent United Statesostensibly to make a study of the penal system, but more precisely to save his neck from one more revolutionParrot will be there, too: as spy for the marquis, and as protector, foe, and foil for Olivier.
As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, between their picaresque adventures apart and togetherin love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new landsa most unlikely friendship begins to take hold. And with their story, Peter Carey explores the experiment of American democracy with dazzling inventiveness and with all the richness and surprise of characterization, imagery, and language that we have come to expect from this superlative writer.
[A] rich, intricate historical novel which places two very different foreigners in the middle of a completely alien society: American democracy in its infancy... These dissimilar characters allow readers to take a step back from what they know of this early period in United States history to experience it from two disparate, contrasting viewpoints, creating a sense of freshness and nostalgia for a more innocent America, the land of opportunity where anything is possible... The novel requires concentration and thought from its readers, and so it should be reserved for those in the mood for something a little heavy (think literary steak versus ice cream). (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
The New York Times Parrot and Olivier in America grabs its subject and marches down Main Street playing full out, provoking a reader’s delighted applause and - as is often the case with this exuberant novelist - a small measure of exasperation.
Quirky and erudite, but the payoff in human-interest terms is meager.
Starred Review. Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history.
Starred Review. [T]his engaging book will be particularly appreciated by readers interested in early 19th-century American history, the French aristocracy, and emerging democracy.
Starred Review. 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....
The Guardian (UK) - Thomas Jones
As long as his literary imagination is, like Parrot, settled in America, Carey seems unlikely to repeat the virtuosity of True History of the Kelly Gang.
The Guardian (UK) - Ursula Le Guin
... exactly as its title promises, the book is about Parrot and Olivier in America; but it's not about America. Its picture of the coarse, young United States of Andrew Jackson – is entertaining, if predictable... Are there hidden significances? I don't know. It's a dazzling, entertaining novel. Should one ask for more?
The Telegraph (UK) - John Preston
Like Carey’s 2001 Man Booker Prize-winner, True History of the Kelly Gang, Parrot and Olivier in America has an epic historical sweep to it. Yet for all the novel’s virtues, the book can’t muster the same emotional impact as its predecessor... In the end, the novel’s richness can’t disguise the fact that the plot rather lags behind the ideas driving it. That said, it’s still one hell of a ride.
The Independent (UK) - Andrew Taylor
The whole is rather less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps there's a little too much concept here. The fictional elements take second place to the ideas. The characters are brightly coloured and grotesquely lifelike puppets defined by their thoughts as much as feelings, and it's hard to engage with them other than intellectually. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, of course, and this is a book full of good things. But Carey has written better.
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
Funny, bawdy, brainy and moving, Parrot & Olivier in America is an utter delight.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by JeanT A Shore Too Far Interesting, but I found it a bit tedious in the places. The humor was evidently too subtle for me, as I did not find it nearly as funny as others have described. I enjoyed the descriptions of life in Europe and the US in that time frame , but... Read More
Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was born in Paris on July 29, 1805. His parents, both of aristocratic background, narrowly avoided the guillotine during the aftermath of the French Revolution, and were exiled to England. They were later able to return to France during the reign of Napoleon. His father supported the Bourbon monarchy, eventually becoming Prefect of Versailles in 1826 and made a peer by Charles X in 1827.
Tocqueville entered the College Royal in Metz in 1821, at the age of 16, to study philosophy, and it was during these years that he began having doubts about the role of the aristocracy's role in France's government. He moved to Paris in 1823 to study law, and in 1827 became apprentice magistrate at the Versailles Court of Law. His sympathies became increasingly liberal, and he began voicing the opinion that a decline in the aristocracy was inevitable.
In Banquet at Delmonicos, Barry Werth, the acclaimed author of The Scarlet Professor, draws readers inside the circle of philosophers, scientists, politicians, businessmen, clergymen, and scholars who brought Charles Darwins controversial ideas to America in the crucial years after the Civil War.
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