A Hologram For The King by Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s Books, San Francisco, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-936365-74-6
Alan Clay is in Saudi Arabia to sell a virtual image to an absent king in his invisible city. It’s a far cry from his previous job, making and selling Schwinn bicycles, but that job is invisible too, thanks to the mismanagement of the company and the global marketplace. Now Alan is looking for one big sale to help him out of his financial troubles and keep his home and his beloved daughter in college.
When he arrives at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) to sell the King the latest hologram technology from Reliant, he finds a lot of billboards but no city. The King is travelling with no firm itinerary, leaving Alan and his team with nothing to do but sit around in a poorly ventilated tent with little food and weak Wi-Fi. Alan can do nothing but think about his prospects and play with a growth on his neck he worries is sucking the life force out of him.
The longer he remains in KAEC, the more he grows accustomed to its culture and people. The people in Saudi Arabia, like Alan, have little to do except dwell on their present and imagine a different future. Everything seems to depend on the King, who like the hologram Alan is so eager to present, may or may not ever appear.
A Hologram For A King was nominated for a National Book Award and it’s easy to see why. The writing is sparse, but all the more powerful for its lack of flowery language. The desert setting reminded me of the classic stories of displaced people by Albert Camus and Paul Bowles. There is a surprising amount of thought provoking material in a book that’s a relatively quick read.
Eggers is tapping into a deep fear that America’s economic status in the world is being diminished in the global marketplace. Through Alan’s struggle, the reader feels how economic, political, and religious movements impact individuals on an emotional and psychological level. Alan Clay shares some of the bewildered impotence of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, but Eggers also reveals how global forces for cheap labor are making it impossible for people like Alan to thrive. The novel ends with a memory of Alan taking his daughter to watch the last launch of the NASA space shuttle, and the reader can’t help but feel that it’s not just America’s manufacturing that has been sapped, but its spirit of innovation and adventure as well.
Information about the author
The author writes on his Amazon.com author page, “Dave Eggers is the author of six previous books, including “Zeitoun,” a nonfiction account a Syrian-American immigrant and his extraordinary experience during Hurricane Katrina and “What Is the What,” a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award. That book, about Valentino Achak Deng, a survivor of the civil war in southern Sudan, gave birth to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, run by Mr. Deng and dedicated to building secondary schools in southern Sudan. Eggers is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house based in San Francisco that produces a quarterly journal, a monthly magazine (“The Believer”), and “Wholphin,” a quarterly DVD of short films and documentaries. In 2002, with Nínive Calegari he co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for youth in the Mission District of San Francisco. Local communities have since opened sister 826 centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Seattle, and Boston. In 2004, Eggers taught at the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and there, with Dr. Lola Vollen, he co-founded Voice of Witness, a series of books using oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. A native of Chicago, Eggers graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.”
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 10 and up