A humorous debut novel about the surprising consequences of one man’s intense distaste for olives.
Grak, a moody, misunderstood member of a group of egalitarian nomads, suffers from a “severe and unusual hatred of olives.” That, in turn, means he doesn’t like Lago, the tribe’s cook, who adds the fruit to all the dishes he makes. To get back at Lago, Grak utters a small and seemingly innocent lie. Yet that spur-of-the-moment falsehood leads to other lies, and soon Lago is banished after being falsely accused of poisoning the group’s food. Before long, Grak, through a combination of cleverness and dumb luck, installs himself as the group’s leader—a previously vacant and unnecessary position. He then proceeds to manipulate his friends, seek vengeance on his perceived enemies and generally turn what was once a happy, thriving tribe into a starving, dysfunctional group ruled by a despot with a shaky grip on reality, as revealed in Grak’s increasingly unhinged internal monologue. Story’s quirky novel commendably shows how easily evil can take root and flourish. The setting may be pre-modern, but Grak’s behavior is immediately recognizable as the wounded posturing of the schoolyard bully. This thoroughly unlikable protagonist is driven not by a thirst for power or riches but by his own inability to trust others. Early on, he wonders: “What is this deviousness? Was she a part of this? Did they plan it together…out of their mutual resentment toward me?” Even when his tribe is at the brink of ruin and he’s publicly executing those who dare to question him, Grak sees himself as a victim. Friendly overtures are misread as insults, while offhand remarks are evidence of sinister plots against him. Often, the results of these misunderstandings are blackly comic. Grak’s downfall is inevitable (if a long time coming), but what’s more troubling is that even though he eventually loses power and sees the error of his ways, he has taught those around him how to use fear and violence as tools of subjugation.
An amusing, occasionally sobering look at how evil can spring from unexpected wells.