• Parrot and Olivier in America

  • By: Peter Carey
  • Narrated by: Humphrey Bower
  • Length: 17 hrs and 35 mins
  • 3.7 out of 5 stars (195 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Olivier, an improvisation on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville, is the traumatized child of aristocratic survivors of the French Revolution. Parrot is the motherless son of an itinerant English printer. Born on different sides of history, their lives will be joined by an enigmatic one-armed marquis.

When Olivier sets sail for the nascent United States, ostensibly to make a study of the penal system but more precisely to save his neck from one more revolution, Parrot will be there, too, as spy for the marquis and as protector, foe, and foil for Olivier.

As the narrative shifts between Parrot and Olivier—their adventures in love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new lands—a most unlikely friendship begins to take hold. And with their story, Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy with dazzling inventiveness.

©2010 Peter Carey (P)2009 Bolinda Publishing Proprietary Liimited; 2010 by Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Remarkably fluent in history, Carey is not beholden to his sources but, rather, empowered to create a thrillingly fresh and incisive drama of extraordinary personalities set during a time of world-altering vision and action." (Booklist)
"Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history." (Publishers Weekly)
“Peter Carey is still the master.” (Washington Post Book Review)

What listeners say about Parrot and Olivier in America

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Like nothing else

This is a great book to turn to when you feel as if no-one is telling original stories anymore. It will remind you that great writers can recognize compelling stories (with compelling characters, situations, dialogue) everywhere. The narrator is absolutely brilliant as well, and he makes the characters live - especially impressive given that the two main characters could not be more different.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Laudable writing, story could be more involving

I've never read the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, the 18th century French writer upon whom Carey based the character Olivier, so I can't really comment on this book from that angle. It seems, though, that Carey didn't intend to retread an already-written account of a young nation, but to write a character study. Thus we get Olivier, a haughty, melancholy young French aristocrat still haunted by the ghosts of his country's revolution, and his counterpoint, Parrot, a hard-traveled Englishman who acts as Olivier's not-entirely-willing manservant.

Both are outsiders to America, seeing different things in it. For Olivier, it's a barbaric, uncultured society, driven mainly by a desire for profit. "What if they blindly follow what their newspapers tell them and elect some rube for President?" he asks. Parrot is somewhat more optimistic, seeing the chance for a fresh beginning for himself. The question for the modern reader is, of course, implicit. Will this be a country whose glory blossoms briefly, then ends in George W. Bush and worse? Or are we idealizing an imperfect past and failing to see that America remains a place of opportunity, in spite of its many faults? Carey leaves this question to us.

In terms of writing and voice, Parrot and Olivier is an impeccable novel. I really enjoyed the historical flavor, and can't fault Carey for research and style. A section in which the two men, who don't like each very much, must endure close quarters while crossing the Atlantic, getting to know their new American neighbors in the process, is quite witty. However, the book overall didn't quite live up to my hopes. Carey spends a lot of time defining his characters' separate lives and histories without doing that much with them. I felt like the novel spent so many pages on trips back to the old world, which aren't that crucial to the plot, that it didn't say enough about the new world, or give the two men enough time together.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Better than expected from reading other reviews

An interesting portrayal of period class distinctions and fairly interesting characters. I had trouble caring about them at first, but Humphrey Bower does well in bringing characters to life and has an admirable range of accents. The story starts slow, and the ending is a bit deflated. However, there are a few twists that bring characters together in the end and the body of the story is interesting enough.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Why America is the way it is...

This is a GREAT BOOK! Towards the middle, the reader discovers the secret to the American spirit and why we're now in a pickle. This book is packed with interesting information and deep characterization, many stories folding into profound realization... Great narrator too - a must read/listen! It was recommended by a guest on Ian Masters' Background Briefing.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

History hidden in fine writing

A delightful riff on early America— contrasting New World and Old in transition and a charming Roman a clef on de Toqueville.

History brilliantly disguised as a novel by a master storyteller and exquisite writer.

Narrator is excellent and successful with at least two dozen character voices.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Got attached to it over time

Any additional comments?

Peter Carey is always smart and entertaining, plus, I like historical novels and have some patience for them. A big plus here for me was Humphrey 'Bower's reading/performance, which really impressed and entertained me.
Lots of reviews found the story too slow and wandering and there is some of that, but it grew on me a lot. The imaginings of deToqueville's tour of America were interesting, but the character and story of Parrot was the center of the story for me.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Why Bother?

I'd read A True History of the Kelly Gang and was hoping for another gritty down-to earth novel with strong story and vivid characters but this is an unconvincing book about silly people cavorting around in post-revolutionary USA that I had to struggle to get through. Was Alexis de Toqueville really such a silly upper-class git? If so, why choose him as a subject? The simpering fool in this book could not possibly have written Democracy in America and his Quixotic relationship with the Panzaic Parrot, a low-class English printer, never made sense to me. Carey's inventiveness and skill keeps the story moving along but this was one of those books you just kept asking, what's the point--right to the end, unfortunately. The effect wasn't helped by the reader's decision to render all the French-speaking characters in stage-French replete with zisses and zats.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A+

If you could sum up Parrot and Olivier in America in three words, what would they be?

Deeply delightfully intelligent

Which character – as performed by Humphrey Bower – was your favorite?

Parrot, but Olivier was great too.

Any additional comments?

I didn't want this book to end. The paradox of democracy and the American character has matured but remains unchanged. Fascinating and the writing is absolutely marvelous.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

A charming ramble

Recalling de Toqueville's observations on America from a European view, this is a tale of two very different Europeans' experiences in the new world (Parrot is a person, not a bird). Often humorous and insightful, it does tend to ramble a bit. I was also baffled by the author's treatment of the young American female protagonist whose conduct towards the conclusion of the book makes her seem vain, silly and more than a bit hypocritical--all of which seem quite out of character with her persona to that point of the book. Without spoiling the story, I think that the author could have accomplished his ultimate plot conclusion in a manner more consistent with the rest of the book. An enjoyable read overall, although ultimately a bit unsatisfying.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Not beach reading, even for Toqueville fans

Unfortunately, I downloaded this for summer beach reading on the strength of an NPR review. It was far too dense for that. Here it is winter and I'm still "reading" it. Moreover, I never found a way to care about the protagonists, Olivier and Parrot. Aside from that, I enjoyed it as an historical novel and it was interesting to re-think Democracy in America as having been written by a snotty, immature and conceited French aristocrat brat, which now I get he undoubtedly was.

2 people found this helpful