'Olivier is a young aristocrat, one of an endangered species born in France just after the Revolution. Parrot, the son of an itinerant English printer, wanted to be an artist but has ended up in middle age as a servant.
When Olivier sets sail for the New World - ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to avoid yet another revolution - Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. Through their adventures with women and money, incarceration and democracy, writing and painting, they make an unlikely pair. But where better for unlikely things to flourish than in the glorious, brand-new experiment, America?
A dazzlingly inventive reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville's famous journey, Parrot and Olivier in America brilliantly evokes the Old World colliding with the New. Above all, it is a wildly funny, tender portrait of two men who come to form an almost impossible friendship, and a completely improbable work of art.' (From the publisher's website.)
As a silent rule, historians do not mess with creative writers, but it a fact that works like Umberto Eco's best selling The Name of the Rose (1980) appeal to the essence and scope of narrating the past. Likewise, a host of modern and postmodern authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Saramago, Doris Lessing or Patrick White have opened new frontiers in historical fiction, submerging fact with invention, often disproving official historical evidence. The advent of anti-idealism in many fields of the humanities has also downsized history from indisputable, factual eyewitness to an elaborate, time-constrained, and often reticent account. Reliability and faithfulness have ceased to be the purpose of historical fiction and, to be true, what is at stake is not only the process of fictionalising history, but also the transmission of historical events as a distinct kind of narrative.' (Introduction)
A column canvassing current literary news including a report on Penguin's forthcoming publication of Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America.
Wyndham also reports on Philip McLaren's grievances with the Byron Bay Writers' Festival. McLaren asserts (inaccurately according to festival organisers) that the writers' festival has been practicing 'racism by omission' in not inviting Indigenous writers to participate. Wyndham notes the organisers' counter-claims, including a list of Aboriginal writers invited to attend in recent years.