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Customer Review

105 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Waiting for the king, June 25, 2012
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This review is from: A Hologram for the King (Hardcover)
It is 2010, and Alan Clay is waiting. Not for Godot, but for King Abdullah, in the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), which is a developing Red Sea port in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He is a 54-year-old failed American businessman in serious debt, evading his creditors and anguishing over how he will pay for his daughter's next year in college. He also has an angry ex-wife and a worrying lump on his neck. This is his last hurrah, a chance to turn his life from sad and broke to flush and secure, if he and his young team from Reliant can pitch this hologram presentation to the King and win an IT contract.

Alan is a bit of a sad sack, arriving at his failures largely due to the outsourcing of American business manufacturing. He was once a confident, prosperous sales executive with Schwinn, until he made some bad decisions, such as trying to convert a Soviet-era factory in Budapest to a capitalistic model. Sometime after that catastrophe, he followed the trend of globalization, and was instrumental in shipping Schwinn's labor to China. That was the end of Schwinn's American prosperity.

"How did your suppliers become your competitors? That was a rhetorical question...Teach a man to fish. Now the Chinese know how to fish, and ninety-nine percent of all bicycles are being made there in one province."

Moreover, his father, now retired, had been a committed union man with Stride Rite, and treated Alan with contempt for his past misdeeds and his new job with Reliant.

"They're making actual things over there, and we're making websites and holograms...while sitting in chairs made in China, working on computers made in China, driving over bridges made in China. Does this sound sustainable to you, Alan?"

As Alan recalls various high points and assaults on his career and personal life--his tense years wedded to the high-strung Ruby; a sentimental trip to Cape Canaveral with his daughter, Kit, to watch the last shuttle; the affluent years with Schwin--he continues to wait, either in his lonely hotel with no alcohol, or set up with his team of three in a tent with anemic wi-fi and no air conditioning, in 110-degree heat.

Fortunately, Alan has forged a connection with a local, a young, enigmatic, chubby driver named Yousef, who is constantly looking under the hood of his car/taxi for explosives that may have been set by the husband of an ex-fiancé. Yousef is the comical straight man to the blundering Alan. As Alan shares his dreams and visions of selling his ideas to the King, Yousef tamps it down with some biting realities. Apparently, the King hasn't even been back to Jeddah in about 18 months.

Yousef gives Alan a tour of this unrepentant desert region, a vast place tremendous with possibilities, but appears to be in a stage of arrested development. A billboard advertises the development, and there's a road that cuts through nothing, then a pair of stone arches, and a dome hovering over all of it. He imagines the city rising from its ashes. Presently, it looks like anywhere and nowhere--it could be Los Angeles, or Orlando, as there is nothing to give it distinction, except for its looming neutrality and the few towering or squat, square buildings.

Alan attempts to make contact with the liaison, Karim al-Ahmad, at the building they call the "Black Box," and is given the royal runaround. Back to the stifling tent, he reminisces and deliberates some more. Is the lump on his neck malignant? Are they going to be served food? Is the King going to come soon? Days turn into weeks, and Alan has some interactive adventures. He meets a Danish beauty with an office in the Black Box and a secret stash of moonshine. He makes an appointment to have his lump evaluated and meets a serenely beautiful doctor. He even has an opportunity to prove himself an able marksman.

Eggars has pared down his prose since the exuberant narrative style in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Here it is streamlined--lean, economic, slyly impassive. I enjoyed what was unsaid as much as what was said--the spaces between sentences, the pregnant pauses to ponder, the measured rhythm, the quivering tension, the elegy of a man feeling his impending absence more than his indefinite presence.

There's a risk of the story being an agit-prop against the creeping ambush of globalization, a pithy cry about America's decline. Certainly that point is made, but not forcefully. Readers are already aware of the economic struggles, the backlash of end-stage capitalism and the pros and con arguments of outsourcing. Eggars is more interested in shaping a character we will identify and empathize with, and laugh at occasionally.

Clay is a maladjusted baby boomer from the age of entitlement, losing his footing in the new privileges and prohibitions of global finance. His wounds, both physical and emotional, are palpable. Alan Clay is a suffering everyman, in the throes of unsustainability. There are wisps of Willy Loman, Herzog, and other memorable literary figures, aging tragic-comic men who suffered from obsolescence.

It reads partly like a fabled allegory, but achingly real and plausible. Can the imminent foreclosure of a man's life be reversed? Will the King show up? I was touched, and considerably moved, by the story, characters, and themes. Don't expect a neatly wrapped up resolve. The droll and beguiling Eggars will hook you on page one, and won't let go, even when you reach the end.
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Comments

Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 19, 2012 9:28:14 PM PDT
ClubLevel says:
An enticing review of Dave Eggers new book, A Hologram for the King, especially with references to the book's protagonist being of the sort found in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Saul Bellows' Herzog. The globalization premise for the book will serve such a protagonist well; I'm looking forward to reading this book soon, as some of the story line sounds remarkably similar to current business I'm following in Saudi Arabia.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2012 10:26:25 PM PDT
Thank you, ClubLevel. It sounds like you will relate very well to this story. Let me know how you enjoyed it!

Posted on Aug 27, 2012 9:28:35 AM PDT
This review is better than the actual book.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2012 3:14:27 PM PDT
Wow, Jennifer! I appreciate the compliment, even though you didn't like the book.

Posted on Sep 12, 2012 11:46:15 AM PDT
I'm on page 132 of 312.
Our hero has had another day with no meeting, returned to his hotel and had a room service steak.
Right now he's touring the fitness center essentially because he has nothing else to do.

Reading this book is like having a 5 hour layover at an airport that's just far enough from the city that you can't get there, do a museum and get back to make ur flight.
A friend gave this to me and promised I would like it.
DL: Do I really need to finish this?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 12, 2012 5:12:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 12, 2012 5:12:48 PM PDT
John--you really need to finish this. If, for no other reason than to let me know your final assessment! :--)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 26, 2012 12:59:00 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 26, 2012 1:07:12 AM PDT
Happyguy says:
I have run out of pages. Is it over yet? <SPOILER ALERT> No, seriously, I get it. It's just a sad, ambivalent ending. The thought I had as I closed the final page was that the only likable characters in the story, namely Youssef and Zahra, have abandoned sadsack Alan. Or has Zahra, in fact, abandoned Alan? Was Paris an excuse for saying so long? She gives no indication that she is through with him until she mentions Paris. I thought that was a bit of a loose thread. The ending was a tad brilliant and unsatisfyingly satisfying in a way: Alan transforming from business partner to the King to becoming one of the relatively insignificant thousands of foreign nationals whohlly dependent upon the King's largesse.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 26, 2012 2:27:49 PM PDT
Happyguy--it sounds like you really "got" this book. And, you are so witty, too!

Bug

Posted on Dec 5, 2012 9:54:53 PM PST
A persuasive review. But I also notice that the reviews are all over the Amazon spectrum, almost equal for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 stars. Given my distaste for the absurd physical binding of the book itself, I find myself equally persuaded by smoe of the negative ones. Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 5, 2012 10:07:01 PM PST
What is in fact absurd about the book binding? Economical, it would seem. But absurd? Interesting...
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