Writers on the Record | Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium | Literary Events | Chicago Reader

Writers on the Record Critic's Choice Free Recommended

When: Thu., April 22, 6 p.m. 2010

Two-time Man Booker Prize winner Peter Carey chats with arts journalist Victoria Lautman about his latest novel, Parrot and Olivier in America. The interview will be broadcast on WFMT 98.7 FM on Sun 4/25, noon. In his luscious and exuberant new novel, Parrot and Olivier in America (Knopf), Peter Carey (Oscar & Lucinda, True History of the Kelly Gang) no doubt had his tongue lodged firmly in cheek when he had a minor character in his cups predict that one day le fou viendra—a fool will lead America. The prophecy is repeated by title character Olivier de Garmont, a French aristocrat whose sweeping soliloquy at the end of the tale foretells a country where "You will follow fur traders and woodsmen as your presidents, and they will be as barbarians at the heads of armies, ignorant of geography and science, the leaders of a mob daily educated by a perfidious press." But Carey's Dickensian tale, a pastiche of the life of Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, unfolds as much as a love letter to the States--where Carey, an Australian, has lived since 1990--as a critique. It’s here that Olivier's unlikely traveling companion, servant, and foil, the bawdy and hilarious John "Parrot" Larrit, is able to achieve a level of dignity and independence unthinkable in the Old World. While richly inking in 1830s New York in all its chaos and clatter, the dueling narratives of Olivier and Parrot probe the nascent democracy's inherent contradictions, depicting the tyranny of the masses and debasement of culture as the by-products of the greater ideals of equality and opportunity. This rollicking tale is far from a polemic, though: Carey's ravishing language, the larger-than-life characters, and no small dose of swashbuckling adventure combine in a wildly satisfying and entertaining read. --Kathie Bergquist

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