The Parade by Dave Eggers

The Parade

Dave Eggers

With echoes of J. M. Coetzee and Graham Greene, this timeless novel questions whether we can ever understand another nation’s war, and what role we have in forging anyone’s peace.

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From the bestselling author of The Monk of Mokha and The Circle comes a taut, suspenseful story of two foreigners' role in a nation's fragile peace.

An unnamed country is leaving the darkness of a decade at war, and to commemorate the armistice the government commissions a new road connecting two halves of the state. Two men, foreign contractors from the same company, are sent to finish the highway. While one is flighty and adventurous, wanting to experience the nightlife and people, the other wants only to do the work and go home. But both men must eventually face the absurdities of their positions, and the dire consequences of their presence. With echoes of J. M. Coetzee and Graham Greene, this timeless novel questions whether we can ever understand another nation's war, and what role we have in forging anyone's peace.


Advance Galley Reviews

This story was surprisingly engrossing given its lack of action. The story follows two disparate characters with very different personalities who are tasked with paving a road connecting two parts of a country that was recently ravaged by civil war. The majority of the book is spent in the cab of an RS-80 (paver) and in the mind of Four, an individual who is ridiculously committed to his task but that grows on you over time. Nine appears throughout, his antics angering Four and humoring the reader. I spent a good amount of this book wondering what Nine was going to do next to anger Four. There is a change in dynamic towards the end as might be expected in character arcs, the change and ending was well-executed but also unsurprising. But then again, it did not need to be a surprise to be an enjoyable read. Overall this was one of the most engaging books I have read where very little actually happened.

The Parade is one of those sleeper novels that you can read in one sitting. The story revolves around Four and Nine who are contracted to pave a 230 Kilometer road in 12 days. Their company has given them strict rules about not interacting with the locals and Nine breaks every one of them. This is a story about how we need to interact with each other and show respect. It is also the basic story that sometimes the "bad guy" is actually good and the "good guys" are actually bad. This is a novel that gave me a sucker punch to the gut at the end even though I was expecting it two chapters earlier. I would recommend this one to anyone that wants a quick read and maybe a little different.

The premise is simple enough: a pair of western contractors have been sent to an unnamed country that has been ravaged by years of civil war. In this time of peace, they have been contracted to pave a road bridging the northern and southern regions of this country. The story is narrated by Four, the older and more experienced of the two men. Four intends to carry out this job has he has every assignment before, but Nine throws a wrench in that. As Four keeps his head down and his gaze fixed on the finish line, Nine soaks up the landscape and the hospitality of locals. The Parade chugs along at a steady pace. I wouldn't characterize this as particularly suspenseful, but the book doesn't drag on. Eggers leads you on with the promise of further intrigue and maybe, just maybe figuring out what this book is actually about. It feels almost allegorical with the way he layers on the vagueness: an unnamed company sending two men who go only by pseudonyms to an unnamed country after a conflict between nameless factions. It felt at times as if I knew the machine they were using to pave the road better than the characters before me. I enjoyed how both Four and Nine's relationship evolved over time, but the ending ultimately fell flat. The final twist was tragically predictable and didn't land with much more than a thud. For better or for worse, I've never read anything quite like The Parade before.

Four just wanted to do his job. He operated a state-of-the-art paver and he had a schedule to meet. He was to pave a road that would connect two halves of a country, the rebels at one end and the modern city and army at the other end. He was to keep to himself, not get involved, just do his duty and go home. Nine had other ideas. He was to ride ahead and remove anything that might hinder Four's advancement. But Nine was a free spirit. He chatted up the locals, ate at their fires and went to bed with their women. He made connections. Four couldn't control Nine. If he reported Nine's misadventures it would make Four look bad. Nine's behavior brought a crisis when he came down deathly ill, forcing Four to accept the help of locals to save his life. What interests me is that the title is not 'The Road' or a reference to Four and Nine's divergent attitudes towards the people they met who have endured war but still offer hospitality. No, it is called The Parade. Four's time schedule must be met because there is a parade scheduled by the general in the city at the other end of the road. The road's completion is to be celebrated. Four completely believes in the road's peaceable purpose of bringing progress to the rural bush folk. He has bought the story of the celebration. The twisted, dark ending was almost expected. In some ways, Four's faith in his supposed peaceful purpose recalled to mind another novel I recently read, The Cassandra by Sharma Shields, in which a young woman finds work at a government facility working on something that will end WWII. She completely buys into her work and purpose until she discovers what it is that will end the war--the Atom Bomb. I have always wondered how people can participate in industries that manufacture products of destruction. How do they justify their work? Do they willingly believe some fantasy? Do they push the purpose out of their minds? How hard it must be to discover too late what you have done. It is easier to believe in a fantasy parade. I received a free ebook through First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Not my favorite Eggers book. Four was my favorite character but I did feel bad for Nine at times. I know Nine meant well with wanting to eat with the locals and communicate with them but in a way I feel like this contributed to the sad ending. I love Eggers’ writing style but this book although short was hard to read at times.

Two (probably American) contractors have to pave a new road across the blighted, war-torn landscape of a Third World shithole (probably in Africa) so the new regime can have a parade on it. A novel about road paving. And it’s as exciting to read as it sounds! I like Dave Eggers but his books set in Africa/the Middle East are, for whatever reason, turrible. I hoped Eggers would take the mundane setup and do something interesting with it - no way could the book be so determinedly dull - but, nope, it really is simply a portrayal of everyday engineering work in a desolate country. Crikey… I still tried to see what Eggers was trying to say - if anything. The two contractors are Four and Nine (for security reasons they don’t know each other’s real names): Four is stoic and professional who puts his head down and gets on with the job; Nine is reckless and irresponsible, shirking his duties and nearly getting killed. Was this a metaphor for life - the road being paved is life and you can choose to walk along it not taking risks like Four but ultimately have an uneventful time of it, or you can be like Nine and take risks and have adventures, living it up while you can? Probably not - that’d be too banal, even for a self-consciously literary novel. But then I don’t know what the point of the novel was! And that nihilistic ending - is Eggers saying that the Third World can’t be helped until they help themselves? From what I know of the chap, it seems unlikely Eggers would be that uncharitable. Parts of the story were mildly interesting like when Nine got sick and Four had to figure out a way to save him. The character of Medallion kept me guessing as to whether he’d turn on the two men at some point or not. Eggers’ writing too is decent - clearly composed if uninspired - and I felt a strong sense of place from the descriptions. Otherwise, The Parade is one helluva boring and seemingly pointless story about how life in the Third World is as depressing as you think it is! Instead, I highly recommend Your Fathers, Where Are They? to see how dynamite Dave Eggers can be.

The basic premise of this short book is this: Two foreign contractors are tasked with paving a road connecting two parts of an unknown, war torn country. Timing is critical, as the country’s president plans to stage a parade down that road celebrating the end of a long, drawn out war. Though that log line may not make the book sound enticing, anyone who has read Dave Egger’s before knows that he has the ability to give the seemingly mundane a depth and energy that’s often unexpected. This book is no different. It’s a slow churn at the beginning, but Eggers sets the stage for a story that builds into an engaging, unexpected ending. Our two characters, Four and Nine, couldn’t be more different from one another—one is experience, rule oriented and driven, the other is green and less of a stickler for policy. One is essentially a loner who has little interest in interacting with others, the other social, open and charismatic. The relationship between these two characters is representative of the larger story, especially when it comes to the power, and consequences of, assumptions. There’s a lot of this book that is ambiguous—we never learn the real names of any of the characters, and we have no idea what country the main two came from or where they are now. But those are details that matter to this story. It’s well written with crisp, to-the-point sentences that still enough to give the reader all the elegant details of characters and settings. This quick read is worth a go. Suffice it to say, despite best efforts, things don’t go as planned.

 


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