Dave Eggers' latest novel has a rather prosaic starting point: Two entrepreneurs employed by a multinational company are to pave a long road in an unknown country, probably somewhere in Africa, a country recently ravaged by a protracted civil war. The road will connect the poor south with the capital in the north, and the new road strip is intended to support the new and fragile peace, while at the same time repairing and modernizing both road networks and infrastructure.
For security reasons, they have two anonymous names and countries of origin and work in double teams; Four operates the state-of-the-art machine, while Assistant Nine drives in front of him on an ATV to keep track of and repair any damage and obstacles on the roadway. The contrast between the two men is great: Four is conscientious, rational, and adheres to the tight schedule of cold and consistent fanaticism.
Nine, on the other hand, is quite fresh in the industry, and he roams the landscape of the ATV, stopping to talk and get to know the locals, and he also disappears into the terrain for long periods of time and annoys the wits of Four because he doesn't follow the mission to the point. Four call Nine "a maker of chaos".
As two representatives of Western aid, Four and Nine also represent two completely different types of people. Four stays away from the locals, both for safety reasons and because he thus adheres to the schedule – and can also remain in the comfort zone: in the cab of the paving machine.
Outside the cab, the situation is uncertain, unpredictable and partly chaotic, as rebel soldiers still operate in the area and have often kidnapped aid personnel.
Nine, on the other hand, takes chances, he risks constantly getting into trouble and trouble – he goes to the local dungeons, drinks with the men and lies with the ladies, speaks the local language and comes quickly inside the poor environment they pass through. He also believes that they bring prosperity and development with the new road, that the small communities along the stretch of the paved road will flourish as traffic picks up between the capital of the north and the poor areas to the south.
For his part, Four has only selfish motives, he makes good money on a short and demanding assignment in a country he does not know and neither does. . .
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