Olivier is a French aristocrat, the traumatized child of survivors of the Revolution.
Parrot is the son of an itinerant printer who always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant.
Born on different sides of history, their lives will be brought together by their travels in America. When Olivier sets sail for the New World, ostensibly to study its prisons but in reality to save his neck from one more revolution - Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe, and foil.
As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, and their picaresque travels together and apart - in love and politics, prisons, and the world of art - Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy, in theory and in practice, with dazzling wit and inventiveness.
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