I must admit I wasn't really all that interested in reading Parrot and Olivier in America until I saw that it had been long listed for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award. That's not to say that my reading choices are necessarily dictated by awards lists but I have found some gems by reading this way. I have only read two Peter Carey books before - both of them for university English courses. The first was The Fat Man in History - possibly the most different and bizarre book I had read at that time in my young life - and I loved it. The second was Oscar and Lucinda which I found a real struggle to read (let alone write about for exams!).
Parrot and Olivier in America is based on the true life story of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat and politician who travels to America in 1831 to study the prison system there but ends up writing a book titled Democracy in America. I have to admit that I had never heard of Tocqueville before learning that he was the inspiration for Carey's book and I wish I had read more about him before reading this novel as it possibly would have meant more to me in that context.
The Parrot and Olivier mentioned in the title are the two men whose lives are followed in the book. Parrot is the son of an English printer whose life path eventually crosses with Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Barfleur de Garmont - a French nobleman who is forced to leave his beloved home country for America in fear for his life during the revolution. Parrot is sent as his servant but their relationship, and their individual characters, changes over the course of the novel and their travels.
Of course this is only a very simplistic summary of the plot and content of this novel and the reading of it, for me, was like reading a great big adventure story - plenty of twists and turns and action to keep things moving along. I can't help feeling at the end though that I haven't really captured the essence of what the book was about - but hey - I enjoyed the ride anyway!