Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King
From A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers:
Open quote 

He had just left his team, three young people tasked with setting up and demonstrating holographic communications for a king. But there was no king, and they were in a tent, alone, and there seemed to be no knowing when any of this would be rectified."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: C+

A unremarkable story about an unremarkable man. Alan Clay is a bicycle salesman, or was early in his career. Now he is a consultant trying to sell IT equipment to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. But mostly, he is lost and anxious and bitter about how his life has turned out. And he has plenty of time to stew about it, as the King is infamously elusive, always somewhere else, never at the new city arising in the desert where Alan plans to demo a holographic conferencing system, the sale of which promises to bring Alan a commission large enough to straighten out his life.

The story gives some insight into what it's like to do business in Saudi Arabia, where everyone who does any work seems to be from somewhere else, India or the Philippines or Europe or America. Gobs of money are being poured into enormous construction projects in the desert like the King Abdullah Economic City (pronounced "cake") that seem to be more Potemkin villages than real places. This context, this setting for the story is fascinating. More, please.

Unfortunately, we have to read too much about Alan Clay's own story, which isn't fascinating. He's a washed-up bicycle salesman suffering a midlife crisis. Unfortunately, Alan Clay lacks the workingman's nobility possessed by Willie Loman in "Death of a Salesman." And while "Waiting for King Abdullah" might seem like an appropriate subtitle, this novel lacks the ambiguity of "Waiting for Godot" that would be needed to suggest deeper meaning worth exploring. In the end, the reader really doesn't care whether or not Alan Clay sells his hologram to the king.

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