Regina's Reviews > Parrot and Olivier in America

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
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's review
Feb 14, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: award-winner, literature, historical-fiction, favorites
Recommended for: Fans of Historical Fiction, Literary fiction, and discussions on politics and democracy
Read in February, 2011

4.25 stars. Parrot and Olivier was a nominee for the Man Booker 2010 award. This was the reason I picked it up. The book begins in the late 1700s both simultaneously in both England and then years later during the French Revolution in France. In England we are first introduced to “Parrot”, he is a young boy, who wonders with his father and together they look for work. In France, we meet the son of nobles (“Oliver) who both fear the revolution and embrace the ideals that spur it. The stories of both boys/men develop until years later in the 1800s, when Olivier’s parents decide to send him to America to escape the guillotine that has killed so many members of their family and social circle. The author reinvents and imagines Alexis de Toqueville’s trip through America in Parrot and Olivier, Toqueville is represented by Olivier and through both Parrot’s (a servant) and Oliver’s (a noble) travel to America and first experiences of the democracy experiment. Through Parrot, we see a servant with a heartbreaking background, and enthusiasm for the idea that he can remake himself and create industry. Through Olivier we see an initial positive reaction of a noble who is enthused over the ideals of democracy that he has studied, but then a fear of the majority and the masses. Both Parrot and Olivier reinvent themselves and then, revert back to what they were raised to be. For Parrot, this is going back to when he was a child with incredible artistic skill, before the was forced to be a servant of the nobility by circumstance. And for Olivier, it is a reversion back to his noble roots as he fears a nation that will be ruled by whimsy, current desire, uneducated masses and leaders who are not smarter than their citizens. Clearly, the author is making a comment about American politics at this point, but it was an interesting read. Inspiring me to go back and re-read Democracy in America, which I haven’t looked at since undergrad. There is such hope in this book, hope to create something new, to be something beyond what we were given to start with.
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