In a faraway country torn apart by civil war, two men are paving a new road that will reunite the north and south. The job is dangerous, employees of large international companies are attractive targets for kidnappers, so the men are known by their code names Four and Nine. They are polar opposites as far as personality goes. Four is a risk-averse pedant, Nine a careless hedonist. The stage is set for chaos. I’ve always enjoyed the way Eggers throws characters into unchartered territories, a fertile ground for comedy, and here he does it again. The Parade by Dave Eggers is not his best book, but as a light, funny read it’s very enjoyable nonetheless. (The Parade will be published in the UK on 21st March.)
Four is hired as the driver of the RS-90, a state-of-the-art, one-man road paving machine; Nine as the driver of a quad bike, whose role it is to travel ahead of the RS-90 and ‘mitigate obstacles’. As it turns out, Nine does nothing but generate obstacles.
Four just wants to get the job done, on time, and return to his family unhurt and typhoid free, as he has done so many times before. His rule number one: Never engage with the locals. Nine, on the other hand, quite likes carousing with the locals, shagging a few women and trying out the local food – in short – enjoying himself. So, while Nine spends the evenings befriending grateful locals, Four spends them in his roadside tent eating freeze dried food out of a tin cup.
From the safety of the pavers’ cabin, Four watches the surroundings much the way we do on our television. Nine, on the other hand, gets a more hands-on perspective from his quad bike. Things do go wrong, of course, and the loyalty of one colleague to another is put to the test. And Eggers being Eggers, there’s a surprise at the end.
What really works well in this short novel is the depiction of a war-torn country and the spirit of those living there.
Everything around them was standard for a developing country after a war. The soda bottles full of diesel, lined up on the roadside and sold by shrunken grand-mothers. The stray dogs, the children holding babies. The diagonal plumes of faraway fires. The spent rifle shells. The teenagers wearing mirrored sunglasses and carrying unloaded AKs.
There’s always more than meets the eye in a Dave Eggers book. The Parade raises questions about the role of international companies in rebuilding countries, the prejudices their employees come with, and, sometimes, the futility of that work.
The Parade by Dave Eggers is published by Hamish Hamilton, 192 pages.