Customer Reviews for

Parrot and Olivier in America

Average Rating 3.5
( 58 )
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  • Posted August 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Don't read the book reviews! Until now!

    Don't read the book reviews..





    A strange way to start a book review, yes? In regards to this title, however, and all the buzz that has surrounded it since its release, I think it's necessary to offset some of the descriptions of this book.





    Many, if not all, of the reviews of Parrot & Olivier in America refer to Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, pretty much the standard for history in the early US. They connect the character of Olivier with that of de Tocqueville himself, and suddenly the idea of reading this book sounds like a snooze. It's not that way at all, and I think while the similarity exists and may be intentional by the author, it's not a very good way to introduce this book.




    Parrot & Olivier is an insightful yet amusing narrative of the lives of two wildly different characters, as well as the time they lived in. First, Olivier.the son of French aristocrats who needs an escape plan that doesn't necessarily look like an escape. He needs to get out of France for his protection after the French Revolution, so after some thought it's decided to send him to America to research the penal system in the colonies. It's a useful out, as whatever he may learn is politically valuable in France, plus it gets him out of the country in a perilous time. Parrot is an older man, a survivor of many political battles and social conflicts, and his ability to survive in desperate conditions makes him the perfect chaperone for Olivier. Parrot, of course, hates the thought of babysitting the privileged son, and has to be coerced into leaving. It should be noted that before the departure ever takes place, Carey tells the story of both of these men separately, relating their character as well as significant details about the Revolution and how they had to use their wiles to survive.




    Once they leave France, the story picks up even more, and the pace is fast as they both journey into both a new land and new situations. They end up bickering, fighting, separating, and finally bumping into each other again. The scene that finds them reunited is a street fight, where Parrot thinks he's saving Olivier, only to be unexpectedly saved by the well-armed boy. It's a funny moment, one of many, but it points to the difficulties of survival in this new place without some sort of backing.




    For his part, Olivier has no interest in the study of the prisons, and yet his actions lead Parrot to have to experience them firsthand. The interaction between the two and the period details, especially in New York, make this a fun, lighthearted read. One thing that Alexis de Tocqueville said, however, in his book, does apply beautifully to the theme of Parrot & Olivier:




    "The growth of nations presents something analogous to this; they all bear some marks of their origin. The circumstances that accompanied their birth and contributed to their development affected the whole term of their being."


    Carey uses this novel to actually study how these two men developed from their vastly disparate births, with a conclusion that leaves you pondering the entire concept of class, friendship, and the sense of belonging.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is a great fictionalized account of Alexis de Tocqueville's travels in America.

    In France, the aristocratic parents of Olivier-Jean-Baptist de Clarel de Barfleur are concerned with the safety of their son after his involvement with Louis XVIII, Napoleon III and Charles X. To keep him away from the guillotine, they ship him to the former colonies struggling with the concept of democracy.

    Knowing how easily Oliver gets into trouble, his father hires John "Parrot" Larrit the impoverished printer's son is sent with him as his secretary. Neither like nor respect the other. Oliver's haughty mouth gets them in trouble in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and points in between while Parrot expedites them from one incident after another; having gotten his first hand training in the Australian penal colony.

    Rotating perspective, this is a great fictionalized account of Alexis de Tocqueville's travels in America. Jocular yet poignant, readers will appreciate the same event as seen radically different by the son of the aristocrats vs. the son of a widower engraver. Parrot and Olivier in America will make the short lists for historical novel of the year.

    Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Funny and compelling-a marvelous page-turner!

    Using dual narrators, Peter Carey deftly portrays America, and to a lesser extent France and England, in the time frame following the French Revolution.

    Our first narrator, is Olivier de Garmont, who by necessity engendered from his standing as a French aristocrat, must vacate France. To avoid political censure and create a face-saving reason for running away, it is decided that he will travel to America and write a book, supposedly for the French government, on the prison system in the New World. Olivier's character is loosely based on Alexis de Tocqueville and his writing of Democracy in America.

    Through various machinations of plot our other narrator, John "Parrot" Larrit, a poor Englishman of humble beginnings, finds himself thrown into the position of servant to Olivier and on his way to America as well.

    By turns humorous, enlightening, touching, and gripping, Mr. Carey's novel is an intricately complex page-turner of the very best sort. A portrait of the social culture of the America of the age is gently unfolded as the pampered, old world aristocrat and the down-trodden servant begin to equalize in matters of intellect, patriotism, cunning, respect, love and friendship.

    The audio, put out by Blackstone and narrated by Humphrey Bower, will without a doubt be my number one audio for 2011. Given that this year I have listened to far more books than I have read in print, that is quite high praise. Mr. Bower so perfectly captures the accent and persona of both characters that I was surprised to realize that the book, which uses the format of alternating chapters being narrated from the viewpoint of each character in turn, did not use two different actors, one for each voice.

    I absolutely loved this novel. It has everything a reader could wish for in a good work of historical fiction in terms of research smoothly intertwined within the plot, compelling characters (both from history and Mr. Carey's imagination), and vivid prose that drew me in whether the topic was of a personal or societal nature. Whether you choose to listen to Humphrey Bower's masterful performance or let Peter Carey's words speak for themselves, this is an absolute must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Carey spears us all with his wit on this one...

    Ooh, Peter Carey is a hooligan, a rough lad, a clever boy. He takes the opportunity this novel provides to lampoon the national character of France and America, though he went rather easier on the British and Australians. But what a send-up it is! Glorious with imagined scenes of snobbery and pomp in royalist France, and rife with grim scenes of those money-making (literally: counterfeiting) British printers, he moves a youngish Olivier, French aristocrat and lawyer, and his secrétaire, the former counterfeiter John Larrit (nicknamed Parrot), to America, ostensibly to investigate the state of American prisons. In America, Olivier had heard, prison management was trying something completely unprecedented: rehabilitation as opposed to life-long penitance. Modelled on Alexis de Tocqueville's (short for Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville) chatty travelogue Democracy in America, Olivier de Garmont's (full name Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Garmont) book of the same name will surely be the greatest book on the habits of new country yet written. Narrated in amusing voice by Humphrey Bower, Parrot and Olivier in America illustrates with broad swathes of the pen-as-sword, the industrious and plebian democratists making a country they can live in. The young women of this new country are deliciously uninhibited, and the young men have a romantic notion they can aspire to greatness. The aristocrat and his secretary are both irrevocably changed by their term in America, become friends, and learn to live as equals. It is a journey both instructive and humorous, and we thank Peter Carey for turning his gimlet eye on our specificities.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Veers between engaging and "ennuyant"

    M. Olivier can be a bit of a bore and an infuriating one at that... and yet, there's something engaging here. If you've a fondness for the period, you may find the book intriguing as there are numerous small adventures and insights into the lives of the main characters. The overarching plot felt weak and didn't really propel the story along. Maybe I should read de Tocqueville in the original instead?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2011

    great

    a joy to read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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