Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Parrot and Olivier in America Paperback – January 11, 2011
|New from||Used from|
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2010: In this vivid and visceral work of historical fiction, two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey imagines the experiences of Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French political philosopher and author of Democracy in America. Carey brings de Tocqueville to life through the fictionalized character of Olivier de Garmont, a coddled and conceited French aristocrat. Olivier can only begin to grasp how the other half lives when forced to travel to the New World with John "Parrot" Larrit, a jaded survivor of lifelong hardship who can’t stand his young master who he is expected to spy on for the overprotective Maman Garmont back in Paris. Parrot and Olivier are a mid-nineteenth-century Oscar and Felix who represent the highest and lowest social registers of the Old World, yet find themselves unexpectedly pushed together in the New World. This odd couple’s stark differences in class and background, outlook and attitude—which are explored in alternating chapters narrated by each—are an ingenious conceit for presenting to contemporary readers the unique social experiment that was democracy in the early years of America. --Lauren Nemroff
The Democracy of Story-Telling: A Review of Parrot and Olivier in America by Colum McCann
Colum McCann is the author of Zoli, Dancer and, most recently, Let the Great World Spin, which won the National Book Award for Fiction and was the Amazon editors' pick as the Best Book of 2009. Read his review of Parrot and Olivier in America:
Faulkner famously wrote that the past is not dead, it's not even past. Every now and then a voice comes along to make the proper claim that nobody should forget and, even more radically, that nobody should be forgotten. These voices remind us that life is not yet written down: there is more to the story than meets the original word. Peter Carey has made an exquisite art of this sort of exploration into history and language: he smashes the atom of story-telling and comes up with quirks and quarks and quarries.
Carey is a rogue in the very best sense of the word: we are led by delight into a story that is bound to be profound, complex, tender, demanding, reckless, rigorous, charming, and, indeed, true. The value of good literature is that there's always another story to unfold. And in the unfolding, we are led by mystery towards discovery. Strap on the Carey boots, you’ll encounter new lands.
Carey's newest novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, is the story of two men who begin their lives on different ends of the human spectrum. Olivier is an aristocrat, born in France just after the Revolution, while Parrot is the son of an itinerant English printer. Part of Carey's provocative genius is that, even in the title, Parrot is named before Olivier: it’s the late 18th century and both men have swallowed the handcuffs of history. The servant and master. The dreamer and the dreamt. The men travel to America together, land in New York, embark on journeys that have both private and mythic overtones in the "you-knighted states." Ramshackle prisons. Convict ships. Broadway brawls. Land deals. Penal colonies. The small revolutions of human desire and failure.
The men develop an understanding and a friendship and a complexity that is a hallmark of a Carey novel: it is a wonder, as he points out, how many lives can be held within one single skin. The story is an examination of how landscape forms character, and the instinct towards that most democratic of things, story-telling. The task of fiction is to achieve is, by the power of the written word, a glimpse of truth that we didn't necessarily know was available to us. Part of Carey's genius is his ability to allow the reader to become the instigator of ideas. Parrot and Olivier in America is a fantastic riff on the servant/master relationship that can relate to Tocqueville, or to Hegel, or to Nietzsche’s "master morality," or indeed to the inanities of the Bush generation. Carey is well aware of the looking glass of history. Carey is here by being there. Whoever we are is whoever we have been. To label his work as "historical fiction" is to reduce the impact of what it means, and allows. He has his finger on the pulse. But not only that--he has shaped the vigorous graph of the beats.
I recall my first foray into the Carey world. It was back in the early 80's and I picked up a book called Bliss. Harry Joy's heart attack on his front lawn was my own in literature: it resuscitated me. From there I stepped into the lives of Oscar and Lucinda and then Jack Maggs. One of the greatest novels of the 20th century is The True History of the Kelly Gang which came in 2001 and is, without a doubt, an "adjectival" masterpiece. (I’m going to carry that book with me – along with DeLillo’s Underworld and Ondaatje’s Coming through Slaughter--to the gates of heaven or hell, whichever one will have me.) Recently Carey has written My Life as a Fake, Theft and His Illegal Self, all tours de force. What I love about his work is that it’s smart and funny at the same time. It’s always an adventure to read. I get transported out of myself, into a new world. The reader is allowed the dignity of exploration. It’s a form of travel, a manner of being away and remaining at home. I happen now to have the pleasure of teaching with Peter Carey at Hunter College in New York–-in fact, one of the reasons I’m at Hunter is that I wanted to teach alongside him, to shape my writing and reading, and to learn from him. I do so every time I read a book of his. He’s a master storyteller and a servant of language at the same time: he exists in that landscape with humility and grace. Parrot and Olivier in America is Peter Carey at his best: funny and tender and true.(Photo © Matt Valentine)
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The eminently talented Carey (Theft) has the gift of engaging ventriloquism, and having already channeled the voices of Dickens's Jack Maggs and the Australian folk hero/master thief Ned Kelly, he now inhabits Olivier-Jean-Baptist de Clarel de Barfleur, a fictionalized version of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose noble parents are aghast at his involvement in the events surrounding Napoleon's return and the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X. To remove him from danger, they send him to America, where priggish snob Olivier inspires Carey's humor during his self-centered adventures in New York, New England, and Philadelphia. Olivier can't shake his aristocratic disdain of raw-mannered, money-obsessed Americans—until he falls for a Connecticut beauty. More lovable is Parrot, aka John Larrit, who survives Australia's penal colony only to be pressed into traveling with Olivier as servant and secret spy for Olivier's mother. Though their relationship begins in mutual hatred, it evolves into affectionate comradeship as they experience the alien social and cultural milieus of the New World. Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top customer reviews
The journeys and observations of Tocquville are reflected in the fictional character of Olivier, a nobleman from France experiencing the wild and growing American of Andrew Jackson. This was a time of innovation, creativity, and expansion of the American boundaries and development of a true American character. Olivier observes it but his servant Parrot lives it and the contrast is telling.
Early chapters on the lives of both Parrot and Olivier and moving, much like the early chapters in David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Carey obviously has a love for the human condition in all its foolishness and potential and the observations of Olivier probably also reflect Carey's wry observations.
I would recommend The True History of the Kelly Gang to anyone interested in Carey's writing, for it is his masterpiece, but this book is a fully amusing and thoughtful read.
Olivier is interesting in a sort of academic way, but Carey's masterstroke is to pair him with an English traveling companion several decades his senior, known as Parrot. The son of an itinerant printer in Devon, Parrot's life takes a new turn when he meets "Monsieur," a one-armed renegade French aristocrat who crops up throughout the novel as a diabolus ex machina, and is ultimately responsible for bringing Parrot and Olivier together. Transported to Australia (though not as a convict) the teenage lad learns to fend for himself, building some skill as an artist. Eventually, he is brought back to France by Monsieur, and used by him in a variety of shady dealings. He also falls for a fiery female painter named Mathilde, tossing like a towed dinghy in the wake of her genius. Whenever Parrot is the narrator, the language comes violently to life. Here is Mathilde's mother on her arrival in America "...wrestling with the rolled-up canvas, clanking and clattering with those beaten blackened pans she had carried like gold napoleons across the sea. With a nod and nudge she made it clear my only job was to hold her sobbing daughter and my heart was brimming, one part rage, one cockalorum, all sloshing and gurgling and spurting through my chambers." Those who have read TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG know well what Carey can do in this vein.
Olivier has known only one life before coming to America; Parrot has lived through several lifetimes, and looks only to stop travelling, settle down, and discover what he really is. America provides that for him, as it so often does. As a European immigrant myself, I find it uncanny how well Carey has captured one's love/hate relationship with this country -- including the incredulity of most Americans that this could be anything other than total love. I am also struck by the way in which, by setting the genteel breeding of Olivier against the rough practicality of Parrot, he once more touches upon a central duality in Australian literature (it is the theme, for example, of Patrick White's VOSS), though translating it to America, where the problem of maintaining culture in a pioneer world found its own meaning and vibrant solutions.
It took me a long time to warm to this book. In fact, I read it twice, several months apart, before I could decide that I actually liked it. Part of the problem came from my expectations that it *would* be a humorous novel, and I felt let down by the fact that it wasn't funny the first time through. Carey, however, is a complex novelist, and it took that second reading for me to see the deeper intricacies of what he was trying to do. If you've read some of Carey's other recent books, such as My Life as a Fake or His Illegal Self, you'll notice a recurring interest in two overlapping themes: the constructed nature of the self, and the possibilities for inauthenticity that arise from this condition. As such, Parrot and Olivier in America repeatedly deploys the intertwining notions of copying and the counterfeit, from the fake money manufactured by Parrot's father to the carbon paper that Parrot uses to duplicate Olivier's letters. Underneath this repeated symbolism is a political critique grounded in the thesis that the origins of democracy have themselves been counterfeited, allowing the political apparatus to be delivered into the hands of a new ruling class that uses a rhetoric of freedom and equality to cover up its own inherent injustices.
Although Carey delivers this message with deft subtlety, it is not hard to see why, for most readers, such a conclusion is going to touch a sore spot. It is a view that implicitly challenges some of the most basic assumptions about not only who we are as a society, but also certain cherished enlightenment ideas, particularly the notion that human beings naturally and instinctively desire freedom, one of the key foundations of democracy. Still, Carey's assessment is not grounded in a blind anti-Americanism: like his characters, like Tocqueville, he has seen America for himself (Carey teaches creative writing at New York's Hunter College), and this meticulously researched novel challenges the reader to reject the evasions and deceptions of democracy's birth from an empirical position rather than from mere cultural prejudice.
Parrot and Olivier in America is perhaps not Carey's best book, but it is a fine political novel of ideas that rewards patience and close attention.