This is the seventh book of Eggers’s that I’ve read over the years. Like most of his recent books, it takes place in some unnamed, mysterious war-torn country. Two men, using the pseudonyms Four and Nine, are assigned to build a highway using new, very high-tech paving machines. The highway will connect the needy villages with the country’s capital. Four operates very by-the-book, while Nine is more loose and rebellious, breaking protocol frequently by mingling with (and sometimes sleeping with) the locals. The completion of the road is of utmost importance, as there is to be a huge government parade to christen it. Nine recklessness ends up endangering the entire operation.
I won’t give away much more of the plot (the ending is relatively shocking), but the book asks us to ponder a number of things: can Western assistance ever really change the situations in developing nations, and the importance of trying to honor our commitments to the tasks we’re assigned, vs. commitments to our own personal standards. Not his best work, but I definitely got sucked into it.