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A Hologram for the King: A Novel Paperback – June 4, 2013
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“A Hologram for the King is an outstanding achievement in Eggers’s already impressive career, and an essential read.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped, and sad. . . . A story human enough to draw blood…. Groundbreaking.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Completely engrossing. . . . Perfect.” —Fortune
"Dave Eggers is a prince among men. . . . A strike against the current state of global economic injustice." —Vanity Fair
“A fascinating novel.” —The New Yorker
“Eerie, suspenseful and tightly controlled.” —The Globe and Mail
“A comic but deeply affecting tale about one man's travails that also provides a bright, digital snapshot of our times.” —The New York Times
“Eggers’s most fully-realized character to date. . . . True genius.” —Boston Globe
“An unforgettable read.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A novel poised on the central meridian of our times. . . . Eggers maintains an exquisite balance of irony, empathy, dark humor, and unexpected tenderness in this taut exploration of the ever-increasing price of ordinary survival. A book as heartbreaking as the global economy it explores with such beauty and ferocity.” —National Book Awards citation
“Eggers, continuing the worldly outlook that informed his recent books Zeitoun and What Is the What, spins this spare story—a globalized Death of a Salesman—into a tightly controlled parable of America’s international standing and a riff on middle-class decline that approaches Beckett in its absurdist despair.” —The New York Times citation for Best Books of the Year
“Solidly constructed and elegantly told. There is nothing inaccessible about it. . . . Clay may not be like each of us, but he is an everyman whose irrelevancy is parallel to America’s own.” —Los Angeles Times
“Eggers understands the pressures of American downward-mobility, and in the protagonist of his novel, Alan Clay, has created an Everyman, a post-modern Willy Loman. . . . The novel operates on a grand and global scale, but it also is intimate.” —The Chicago Tribune
“Fascinating. . . . A Hologram for the King, as far from home as it might seem, is an acute slice of American life.” —Tampa Bay Times
“A fresh surprise. . . . Strong and satisfying. As the kingless days pass, Alan ventures from the tent and hotel into the rich, unsettling realities of the Kingdom, and Eggers ventures deeper into Alan, as well as into the question that has seemingly guided Eggers’ work for years: What does it mean to be an American in a world that has places like the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, or post-Katrina New Orleans?” —San Francisco Weekly
“Deft and darkly comic . . . A Hologram for the King is not only a portrait of a man in midlife trying desperately to salvage his future. The book is emblematic of what Eggers sees as wrong in America today: the collapse of homegrown industry, the outsourcing of labor, a loss of confidence, soured ideals. . . . But [it] isn’t a bummer—or if it is, it’s a bummer beautifully enlivened by oddball encounters and oddball characters, by stranger-in-a-strange-land episodes. . . . A Hologram for the King moves forward—a momentum of melancholy and possibility, driven by the meditations and memories of its once-noble American salesman hero.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Eggers’s spare prose is a pleasure, and A Hologram for the King proves to be a deft blend of surreal adventure, absurd comedy and pointed observations.” —San Jose Mercury News
“[Hologram] has at its center a sort of moral vision quest. . . . Alan’s plight is endearing in its universality, even while being singularly his.” —Time Out Chicago
“A Hologram for the King presents us with the Great American Novel for this not-so-great America. . . . It strikes a new note for Eggers with its pervading sense of gallows humor.” —Baltimore City Paper
“A Hologram for the King . . . reads fast and clear, with clean, stripped-down prose and a tone at once mournful and darkly amused. . . . It’s not that this world is changing, or that it will change. The world already changed, and now everyone, whether they like it or not, is tasked with figuring out how—or if—they can adapt.” —Portland Mercury
“A Beckettian masterpiece. . . . The finest work to date from an influential figure in American letters.” –The Telegraph (UK)
About the Author
Dave Eggers is the author of six previous books, including Zeitoun, winner of the American Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. What Is the What was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award and won France’s Prix Medici. That book, about Valentino Achak Deng, a survivor of the civil war in Sudan, gave birth to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, which operates a secondary school in South Sudan run by Mr. Deng. 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 an oral history series, Voice of Witness. 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, New York, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Boston and Washington, DC, and similar centers now exist in London (the Ministry of Stories), Dublin (Fighting Words) and in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Melbourne, and many other cities. A native of Chicago, Eggers now lives in Northern California with his wife and two children.
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Eggers works in two ways to establish Clay's character. First, he has Clay, or some random person Clay knows or meets, bemoan the well-known predicament of American manufacturing. While these whinges enable the reader to see where Clay stands on the effects of globalization, his position is also identical to that in a thousand op-ed articles, where writers deplore the "hollowing out" of American industry. Unfortunately, Eggers has no special insight about this quandary. As a result, Clay, when he thinks big, is just a mouthpiece and cliché. He merely expresses or represents what is well known.
Eggers second strategy to create Alan Clay is to think small. In this case, he invents many vignettes--Clay interacting with his blue-collar father, Clay interacting with his impossible but idealistic wife, Clay interacting with his daughter--that give some specificity to his existence. The problem with this approach is that these vignettes, IMHO, never become greater than the parts. Instead, they are the merely recollections of the repining Clay who has experienced failure in his personal life.
This failure to establish believable character also extends to Egger's Saudis. Yousef, Clay's driver, for example, has spent a year at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. While he wears a thobe, he makes such off-key statements as: "That big statue of Vulcan, right? Scary" "Here we go. Full steam ahead!" Meanwhile, Salem, Yousef's guitar-playing friend, makes this American-sounding disclosure to Clay about Saudi Arabia. "But you'd be surprised. Half the women are on Prozac. And the men, like us, the energy leaks out in dangerous places."
In Eggers's Saudi Arabia, the natives, but for their clothing, are undistinguishable from Americans. Or, they are quick stereotypes of villagers, merchants, or thought police. I'm certainly no expert. But I recently read If Olaya Street Could Talk -- Saudi Arabia: The Heartland of Oil and Islam, an excellent memoir by a hospital executive who worked steadily in Saudi Arabia from 1978 to 2003. While this memoir is about many things, it does convey that a special people exist on the Arabian Peninsula who are trying to join modernity and great wealth with social and religious traditions. But in Eggers's simple world, everyone is stuck in the past or wants to be an American.
Ultimately, AHftK comes into focus as a romantic fantasy, with the depressed Clay starting to cope with his problems through the agency of Dr. Hakem. In this plot twist, an out-of-shape, boozing, and marginal American, who has undertaken surgery on his own body, suddenly becomes hot stuff. In some respects, this is the most unbelievable development in an unbelievable book. Still, it will provide a great end for the movie.
One final point: Eggers does that annoying Vonnegut thing, where he breaks up his text into tiny paragraphs. Here, I turn arbitrarily to page 61, where there are four paragraph clumps. But, nope, these clumps read as continuous narrative and the spacing is unnecessary. On page 265... three clumps, which once again scan as a single narrative line. This spacing tic pervades the entire book and adds nothing.
I round up to three-stars in tribute to the many good deeds of Dave Eggers.
Tom Hanks, BTW, is 56, about the right age to play Alan Clay.
In A Hologram for the King, Eggers inserts himself into the psyche of Alan Clay, a latter-day Willy Loman, a long-time salesman for the late lamented Schwinn Bicycle Company who has been retained by an IBM-like global firm to sell a huge package of IT services to the octogenarian King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Alan stands in for the millions of white-collar, middle-class Americans displaced by globalization, automation, and a world that's moving too fast for comfort. He has a daughter in college, an abusive ex-wife, a best friend who literally went off the deep end and died, an unpayable mound of debts to his friends, and an excessive liking for alcohol. He also possesses a large lump on his neck that he's convinced is cancerous and responsible for all his recent clumsiness and erratic behavior. In other words, Alan is a mess. I found it hard to sympathize for the man.
However, Eggers writes beautifully. His descriptions of the Saudi environment and the close-up look he offers from time to time about Saudi life are fascinating. His smoothly flowing prose draws you seamlessly from one scene to the next, shifting between flashbacks to Alan's life before his current assignment and his frustrating weeks in Saudi Arabia. But the story Eggers tells is far from uplifting or enlightening. Alan demonstrates his inability to relate to others in sustained relationships, first with the young Saudi man who drives him around, then with a young Danish consultant who wants sex from him he can't give her, and finally with the female Saudi doctor who surgically removes the lump on his neck. All this unfolds while Alan is waiting for the King to show up for him and his young team to demonstrate the holographic communication system they're certain will close the big deal and right all the wrongs in Alan's life.
In other words, not much happens in A Hologram for the King. I believe it was Joseph Heller who defined a novel as a book in which something happens. (It was probably somebody else, but Heller wrote one under that title.) Maybe it's silly of me, but I prefer novels where stuff happens.
To date I've read only two of Eggers' previous books, both of which I thought far superior to this one: What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a fictionalized account of a very real South Sudanese child soldier, and Zeitoun, a nonfiction treatment of the travails of a Syrian-American family caught up in the chaos of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.