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Parrot And Olivier In America *exp* By Carey P

by Peter Carey
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publishing date: 04/02/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780571253302
  • ISBN: 057125330X

Synopsis

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)



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  • immigrants and travelers
    From Amazon

    Parrot and Olivier is presented as a fictionalized account of the travels of Alexis de Tocqueville and his study of democracy in America. I wish I'd actually read more than a few quotes from de Tocqueville before reading this novel, though, to get more back story and historical context. Oliver de Garmont is a French aristocrat whose mother sends him abroad ostensibly to study the US prison system but actually to protect him from the revolution and bloody pangs of democracy in France. Parrot is the son of an itinerant forger, who becomes affiliated with a French emigré and con artist. Said emigré is a friend of Olivier's mama and engages Parrot almost forcibly to accompany him to America and supervise his activities. The men's paths overlap and loop back on each other, yet there are many questions left unanswered and situations left open ended. So I may read some de Tocqueville, but not sure how drawn I was to the actual protagonists of this book.

  • Really Entertaining and a Fine Example of Historical Fiction
    From Amazon

    Peter Carey is one of only two novelists (along with J.M. Coetzee) to have won the Booker Prize two times. Since bookmakers start taking bets on these coveted literary prizes early, odds are that more than a few people will be putting money down on Carey to be the first three-time Booker winner, based on the promise of his latest remarkable historical novel, PARROT AND OLIVIER IN AMERICA. Carey uses as his touchstone the real historical figure of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat, historian and philosopher who made often-quoted observations of American life following his travels here in the early part of the 19th century. With de Tocqueville as his inspiration, Carey creates the character of Olivier de Garmont, the son of French aristocrats who somehow managed to keep their heads (literally) during the recent French Revolution. But when another uprising seems to be fomenting, Olivier is beset not only by uncertainty about his place in society ("What would we do in this present age? What sort of nobles would society still permit? Would we stamp on wasps' nests? Would we drown swimming against the tide of history? Would we break open the door we could not yet locate, and enter the salons of a glorious time as yet unborn? Or would we spend our lives between the thighs of actresses?") but also with very real threats to his life. For his own safety, Olivier is sent to the United States, a country still in its infancy. Accompanying him is John Larrit, known as Parrot, an older man whose background, temperament and place in French society could not be farther from Olivier's own. Parrot is an engraver, a skilled tradesman who was brought up (sort of) by his father, apprenticed at an early age, and now assigned to spy on (in the guise of serving) Olivier. Parrot's subservience rankles him, his young charge annoys him. But, like thousands of American immigrants before them, the new democracy throws these Europeans of vastly different circumstances together cheek-by-jowl. In the characters of Olivier and Parrot, Carey has created a thoroughly entertaining odd couple. Through flashbacks of their earlier lives, he illustrates how Europe's stratified social and class systems kept them apart; through their picaresque adventures together, Carey portrays American history and democracy in action. PARROT AND OLIVIER IN AMERICA is a really fine example of what can be accomplished through historical fiction. Using the perspective of a contemporary novelist (incidentally, an Australian who has lived in, and made his own observations of, America for the last 20 years), Carey illustrates the significance of historical events through the persons of two individuals who are both historically authentic but also culturally relevant today. Using convincing 19th-century prose style, Carey goes far beyond historical allegory, crafting flesh-and-blood characters who nevertheless illustrate --- on a human scale --- the comic, messy and promising ideals of American-style democracy.

  • Rousing Dickensian story of a Frenchman in America
    From Amazon

    Those who have read Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835) may get an extra dimension of enjoyment from Carey's ebullient and colorful new novel, but those who have not (like myself) will thoroughly enjoy it on its own merits. An Australian who has lived in New York for 20 years, Carey has twice won the Booker prize - for Oscar and Lucinda and for True History of the Kelly Gang. His prose is rousing, comic and full of vitality. His characters - even the ones you'd prefer to hate - inspire complex emotions. The story focuses on Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Garmont's 1830 trip to the United States, in the company of chaperone-cum-servant-cum-secretary John Larrit, known as Parrot or Perroquet, for his red hair and his talent for vocal mimicry. But the story begins well before the two meet and is told in their alternating voices. Olivier starts things off. A delicate, asthmatic boy, born in 1805 France of aristocratic parents, he is brought up ignorant of recent history. While his parents pine for glittering pre-revolutionary Paris, Olivier is left mostly in the company of his clerical tutor, a strapping man who teaches the shortsighted boy to shoot things he cannot see, tramp the estate under lashings of hail and swim in frigid waters. This makes Olivier an excellent marksman and a strong swimmer, but he's still a slight boy with confused opinions and a strong sense of aristocratic superiority. Parrot begins his narrative at age 12 in 1793. His mother is dead and his father is an itinerant Dartmoor printer. One day he takes up a burnt stick from the fire and begins drawing on the floor. "I had never seen a drawing in my life, and when I saw what I was doing, dear God, I thought I had invented it." His father is quick to see "the benefits of having an engraver in the family." "Thereafter I was a mighty protégé and we forgot about our upsets and our Latin and our fractions, and even though my drawings were not always wanted where I placed them, he encouraged me at every turn, always on the lookout for a quiet church porch on account of the quality of its slate. As to subjects, he was not fussy, although once he gave me a pound note to see what I could make of it." But Parrot's rather idyllic childhood comes to an abrupt end and his life has been one hardships, terrors, adventure and exile before he's dragooned into taking the young Olivier to America, spiriting him away from the dangers of Paris politics. Ostensibly in America to study the penal system, Olivier allows himself to be shepherded from place to place: New York, New England, Philadelphia. He and Parrot, from opposite ends of the social spectrum, despise each other. Olivier recalls his father's advice: "When dealing with servants, abandon all your normal nuance, irony, humor. Play no word games, nor make assumptions. Say exactly what service you require and then repeat it once and only once. In this way you will discover that your servants are more intelligent than you supposed." Parrot, however, does not have the proper servant's attitude and his secretarial duties make him privy to Olivier's thinking. Still, both have inquiring minds and, thrown so much together, they develop a grudging sort of affection. Olivier's disdain for American gaucheness and money-grubbing is complicated by his growing appreciation of American democracy, particularly once he meets a Connecticut beauty with opinions on many issues, including President Andrew Jackson. Smitten by Amelia, he becomes smitten by America. As Olivier becomes more enthusiastic, Parrot becomes more morose. Looking around at this land of possibility, he reflects on all the promise that's gone unfulfilled in his own life. Part of Parrot's bargain had included passage to America for his French artist wife and her mother, but the tempestuous, enterprising Mathilde has already carved out a place for herself and hardly seems to need him - though she still wants him, most of the time. Carey's America is a land and a society seen through foreign eyes. Olivier's ideas about democracy vacillate with his experiences, though primarily he sees American democracy as a function of plenty. "...the difference between the Americans and the French is that the Americans do not need to steal from their fellows when they can roam the countryside in bands, cutting trees and taking wealth. Anyone can claim a site for his chateau, whether he be a night soil man or a portraitist." Carey's exploration of the political and social contrasts between old world and new takes place amid a dramatic tale of love, danger and numerous narrow escapes. The story is hilarious and sad, hair-raising and cruel, beguiling and generous. Parrot, however, is a great deal more likable than the aristocrat, try as Olivier might to imagine himself a democrat. In banter with his beloved Amelia, for instance: " `No, you are a de Garmont'. "I did not correct her or admit, even to myself, the jarring note. She should not, of course, have used the de." Parrot's life is particularly Dickensian and remains so even after he's met up with Olivier. There are dungeons, shipwrecks, fires, heartbreak, murder, betrayal, guile and more, and the ideas never bog down the epic scope. A thoroughly enjoyable novel for all who like their historical fiction literary, atmospheric, stimulating and a bit larger than life.

  • Audiobook read in silly French accent
    From Amazon

    I tried to listen to the unabridged audiobook, but the French accent of the reader kept me thinking of Inspector Clousseau played by Peter Sellars. It ruined what was probably a good book: I could not get past the first disc.

  • Not Happy
    From Amazon

    This was a well written book, but it did not live up to its reviews. It was to be a take off of de Tocqueville's books on his visit to America in 1830. His character and that of his servant did the narration in an exaggerate form. But their fictional depictions of America did not fit with de Tocqueville's impressions. Frankly, the book was boring and I could hardly wait for its ending and I could get on to a more enjoyable read.

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