The Parade has a light touch, but it’s stylish and slick, and it leaves us pondering the rights and wrongs of progress and intervention. A road brings medicine, but it also bears armies.
The Parade owes a great deal to J.M. Coetzee’s masterpiece Waiting for the Barbarians. Like Coetzee, Eggers has fashioned an unnamed country, presumably (although, tellingly, not explicitly) in Africa, where the protagonist’s physical and metaphorical journey functions as a commentary on the idea of progress. Like Barbarians, The Parade has a bien-pensant central figure whose organising moral tenets are tested over the course of the story. It isn’t giving away too much of a powerfully affecting ending to say that, like the Magistrate in Coetzee’s novel, Eggers’s hero, known only as Four, ends up facing the limitations of the comforting pabulums of his world view... The superb ending feels entirely earnt, a fitting denouement to a novel whose morality is dazzlingly complex and whose conclusions are never simple. Certainly his best book since What is the What, The Parade may well be the sound of a major writer finding his mature voice.
Reading about the paving of a long straight road is about as interesting as waiting for asphalt to dry...Though Eggers packs Four and Nine’s itinerary with incident, his vision of American involvement in the developing world is a conventional blend of liberal guilt and pessimism when it comes to the prospects of self-governance in poor little countries with forgettable names....For all his excesses, the younger Eggers was the more fascinating writer. You wouldn’t confuse those early books with a TED Talk.
The Parade is tightly written, carefully designed to wrongfoot preconceptions, and astute, as Eggers nearly always is. Its central flaw is the essentially abstract nature of its neat choreography of plot and character. This is an intensely gripping story that keeps on pulling towards a universality that, given the intrinsic vagueness of the setting, feels overly simplified and never quite rings true.
Eggers has said that he doesn’t want the book to be read as a commentary on American intervention in the developing world, and the book is all the better for not narrowing its scope to a particular country at a particular time. Its lack of identifying details instead enables a much more wide-ranging and thoughtful engagement with concepts of power and inequality and whether Western notions of what constitutes ‘progress’ are always right. ‘The second we’re done,’ Nine says at one point, ‘their world catapults into the twenty-first century.’ Eggers’s powerful novel suggests that this isn’t necessarily a good thing.