"From the best-selling author of The Monk of Mokha, a spare, powerful story of two men, Western contractors sent to work far from home, tasked with paving a road to the capital in a dangerous and largely lawless country. Four and Nine are partners, working for the same company, sent without passports to a nation recovering from ten years of civil war. Together, operating under pseudonyms and anonymous to potential kidnappers, they are given a new machine, the RS-90, and tasked with building a highway that connects the country's far-flung villages with the capital. Four, nicknamed the Clock, is one of the company's most experienced operators, never falling short of his assigned schedule. He drives the RS-90, stopping only to sleep and eat the food provided by the company. But Nine is an agent of chaos: speeding ahead on his vehicle, chatting and joking with locals, eating at nearby bars and roadside food stands, he threatens the schedule, breaks protocol, and endangers the work that they must complete in time for a planned government parade. His every action draws Four's ire, but when illness, corruption, and theft compromise their high-stakes mission, Four and Nine discover danger far greater than anything they could pose to each other"--
One of them, Four (names are dangerous so numerical pseudonyms are used) is a veteran - it is his 63rd project and he knows how it works - go down, don't look at anything local, don't talk to the locals or even acknowledge their existence, build the road and go home. Nine on the other hand is new - and despite all the rules, he decides that this road is too important for the impoverished South - so he decides to meet the people and accept their hospitality. Which ends in a lot of "anomalies" - almost ending in death.
And the road is getting built - while we see a sketch of the land - with some minor blimps when Nine does something weird again. The deadline cannot be missed - because there is a parade coming -- and the North needs the road for that. It sounds like an easy story but something keeps ringing wrong in places where it should not.
It is the end that makes it clear what exactly was sounding the alarms in one's head - I almost expected it because of how the novel was going but hoped until these last sentences that this is not where the novel was going.
You can read the novel in a lot of ways. Read it as it is and it is a good story. Read it as an allegory of helping a foreign country without understanding the country and the people and without listening to them and it rings different bells in one's head. In both cases, it makes you think - because good intentions do not always lead to good deeds. And because humans will be humans.
An interesting looks at two men and their completely different viewpoints on life. All while connecting the north and south of a country that was recently divided by war. Even though this is a short read, I felt it could have been shorter still, as it felt a bit repetitive at times. But the ending is superb, so stick to it for the big payoff!
Thanks to Knopf Marketing, and the author, for providing an autographed copy of this book for our Little Free Library!
Throughout the book, the reader observes entirely divergent interactions of these two foreigners with the locals. Reserved, cautious, and at times dismissive. Embracing and engaging yet also foolhardy. The locals are curious, open, and also generous, despite wanting ‘somethings’ in return. Eggers has a crispness in his writing and an economy of words that deliver Four’s frustrations, Nine’s reckless engagements, and the locals’ varied reactions to them and this road. It’s a short, easy read – but…
I don’t recommend finishing this book before going to sleep. Since Eggers is not known for writing books that are used for Hallmark Channel movies, I knew something was coming and when it does, it’s hard to sleep with those words lingering in my mind.