In Dave Eggers’ The Parade, the reader is not told where the story takes place, other than it is a country somewhere in the Middle East which has been ravaged by war. There is constant danger from renegade rebel factions, requiring very strict security rules for foreign workers who are paving dirt roads to reconnect rural people to urban centers.
The main character, known only as “Four,” works with one other person known as “Nine.” They have virtually no verbal interaction or even eye contact with locals. Small personal connections often tend to encourage desperate, or unscrupulous people to extort, kill, kidnap, or steal from the workers. While any form of anomaly or impediment slows the progress of the road building, Four has always managed to finish his assignments on time. Nine, on the other hand, proves to be irresponsible and negligent: engaging with the locals, eating their food, attending their parties, sleeping with their daughters, and leaving Four and the RS-80 paving machine unsupported. Four manages to pave and yellow-stripe 25 or more kilometers each day on his own, hating Nine more and more as company rules are violated again and again.
Circumstances arise which force Four to trust a local man, Medallion, who offers much needed help. Four is in a constant state of anxiety as questions of ethical right and wrong pile up in his mind. He is not an unkind man, but the breakdown of a postwar society makes these questions hard to answer.
For a short book (less than 200 pages) this leaves an indelible image of the human suffering that goes on well after military troops have been pulled out.