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A Hologram For the King by Dave Eggers

January 1, 2013


Don’t judge by the cover and all that, but this hardcover novel makes a strong case for the preservation of the physical book. The cover is beautiful and classic, the title and author boldly embossed in gold letters. It feels more like a Bible than a novel.*

As for the contents, this novel finds 40-something American businessman Alan Clay in the King Abdullah Economic City, a developing Saudi Arabian port city with grandiose ambition, waiting for the arrival of the king so Alan’s team can deliver a sales pitch for a holographic communication system. Alan is an acquaintance of the king’s nephew, which is why he’s on the four-person team (the other three are young go-getters with some vague IT or presentation savvy). Alan suffers from a crisis of confidence. He botched his last job at Schwinn. He is deeply in debt. He has an estranged ex-wife and a daughter he writes mostly un-sent letters to. He is unsure of his role on the team, his role in his family, his role in the world. Oh, and he has a golf-ball-sized lump growing on the back of his neck. These things he contemplates as the king’s arrival is put off day after day after day.

Eggers captures the randomness of travel in a way that fits naturally into his characterization of Alan, a man adrift. There are simple, beautiful moments in this novel, and others that probably don’t completely make sense. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has been said that this novel is a parable about globalization, about the struggling middle class, about out-sourcing. I saw the theme as more about marketing, the selling we do to others and to ourselves. About the inconsistencies between what we are promised and the way things really are, between what we dream we can do and our actual abilities.

As we wander through Alan’s days with him, we see how few things are what they seem. The incongruities of Saudi life mirror Alan’s own mercurial neurosis. The absurdity of the king’s planned city mirrors the impracticality of a holographic communication system when there is no wi-fi signal to be had. Yet, amid all of this, Hologram maintains its equilibrium. It is often both melancholy and humorous. Likewise, even the hopeless Alan Clay finds in himself the courage to hope.


*Note: the cover type was designed by Jessica Hische.

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