Ever since he burst onto the literary scene in 2000 with his extraordinary ‘fictionalised memoir’, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers has produced a body of work that resists easy categorisation. His fiction has encompassed subjects as diverse as the financial crisis (A Hologram for the King), the brave new tech world of Silicon Valley (The Circle) and the civil war in Sudan (What Is the What). His latest novel is stylistically different again – a short, fable-like narrative set in an unnamed country – but it does share many of the concerns of its predecessors, not least in its focus on how Western society, whether knowingly or not, forces its cultural and financial influence on those with fewer resources.
It begins with a man waking on a plastic mattress in a converted shipping container. This is Four and he soon meets his new colleague, Nine. The company they work for insists on anonymity, a security precaution in case they are kidnapped. Without names, the men will be of little value to hostile forces, who would not be able to trace their employers or their families.
Four and Nine are contractors sent to a country recovering from a recent civil war to build a road from the rural south to the capital in the north. We are not even told what continent we are on, though several hints, such as the fact that there is a