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A Hologram for the King [NOOK Book]

Overview

In a rising Saudi Arabian city, far from weary, recession-scarred America, a struggling businessman named Alan Clay pursues a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter's college tuition, and finally do something great. In A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers takes us around the world to show how one man fights to hold himself and his splintering family together.

2012 ...

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A Hologram for the King

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Overview

In a rising Saudi Arabian city, far from weary, recession-scarred America, a struggling businessman named Alan Clay pursues a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter's college tuition, and finally do something great. In A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers takes us around the world to show how one man fights to hold himself and his splintering family together.

2012 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction
One of the New York Times Book Review's Top 10 Books of 2012

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…a clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad…Eggers's inhabiting of the terms and tics of a distinctly American consciousness is as remarkable as, in earlier books, his channeling of Sudanese and Syrian sensibilities…A Hologram for the King is, among other things, an anguished investigation into how and where American self-confidence got lost and—in the central word another lonely expat uses for Alan—"defeated."
—Pico Iyer
The New York Times
In Mr. Eggers's telling, the 54-year-old Alan is not just another hapless loser undergoing a midlife crisis. Rather, his sad-funny-dreamlike story unfolds to become an allegory about the frustrations of middle-class America, about the woes unemployed workers and sidelined entrepreneurs have experienced in a newly globalized world…Thanks to Mr. Eggers's uncommon ability to access his characters' emotions and channel their every mood, we are instantly immersed in Alan's story…a comic but deeply affecting tale about one man's travails that also provides a bright, digital snapshot of our times.
—Michiko Kakutani
The Washington Post
A diverting, well-written novel about a middle-aged American dreamer, joined to a critique of how the American dream has been subverted by outsourcing our know-how and manufacturing to third-world nations.
—Michael Dirda
Publishers Weekly
Eggers's first unabashedly fictional, original novel in some time nonetheless grounds itself as firmly in the real world as Zeitoun or What is the What. Businessman Alan Clay has reached middle age with experience in manufacturing and door-to-door salesmanship considered almost wholly anachronistic and in post-industrial America, "as intriguing... as an airplane built from mud." Deeply in debt and unable to continue paying for his daughter Kit to go to college, Alan finds himself in Saudi Arabia awaiting the arrival of "the Kingdom's" elusive monarch for a chance to pitch his employer, Reliant, as the information technology supplier for a massive new King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) development. In limbo, Alan writes letters to Kit that he'll never mail, frets about his health (he's discovered a growth on his neck), and wrestles with insecurity over his past personal and business failings. This conflation of Waiting for Godot and Save the Tiger is unsurprising, if sympathetic, in its portrait of a global economy with all the solidity of a sandcastle. Eggers strikes fresh and genuine notes, however, in Alan's burgeoning friendship with the young Saudi man, Yousef, assigned to be his driver. Both Eggers's fans and those previously resistant to his work will find a spare but moving elegy for the American century. (June)
From the Publisher
“Mr. Eggers uses a new, pared down, Hemingwayesque voice to recount his story... he demonstrates in Hologram that he is master of this more old-fashioned approach as much as he was a pioneering innovator with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius....[This] sad-funny-dreamlike story unfolds to become an allegory about the frustrations of middle-class America, about the woes unemployed workers and sidelined entrepreneurs have experienced in a newly globalized world in which jobs are being outsourced abroad.... A comic but deeply affecting tale about one man’s travails that also provides a bright, digital snapshot of our times.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A spare but moving elegy for the American century.”—Publishers Weekly

"Eggers can do fiction as well as he likes.”—Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times

“A potent, well-drawn portrait of one man’s discovery of where his personal and professional selves split and connect.”—Kirkus Reviews

“An extraordinary work of timely and provocative themes...This novel reminds us that above all, Eggers is a writer of books, and a writer of the highest order….An outstanding achievement in Eggers's already impressive career, and an essential read.”—Carmela Ciuraru, The San Francisco Chronicle

“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.”—Elizabeth Taylor, The Chicago Tribune

“Fascinating...Although Godot may be Hologram's philosophical source, Eggers is no Beckettian minimalist. The novel is paradoxically suspenseful, but it's also rich in character and in Eggers's evocative writing about place…A Hologram for the King, as far from home as it might seem, is an acute slice of American life.”—Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

"Dave Eggers is a prince among men when it comes to writing deeply felt, socially conscious books that meld reportage with fiction. While A Hologram for the King is fiction...it’s a strike against the current state of global economic injustice."
—Elissa Schappell,Vanity Fair

“Completely engrossing.”
—Daniel Roberts, Fortune

“A heartbreaking character study.”—Nick DiMartino, Shelf Awareness

“Deft and darkly comic…Beautifully enlivened by oddball encounters and oddball characters, by stranger-in-a-strange-land episodes.”—Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Eggers’ 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.”—Georgia Rowe, San Jose Mercury News

“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?”—Alan Scherstuhl, San Francisco Weekly

“[Hologram] has at its center a sort of moral vision quest... Alan’s plight is endearing in its universality, even while being singularly his.”—Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago

"Eggers has given us a work of fiction that works as a perfect commentary on this American decade.”—Jason Diamond, Vol.1 Brooklyn

“The power of this thing sneaks up on you…While Alan cools his heels, he bonds with memorably drawn locals; has some adventures that illuminate the tragicomedy that is globalism; and gets us meditating on what appears to be the theme…: How can we all get over ourselves long enough to really, truly notice other people?” — Jeff Giles, Entertainment Weekly

“Eerie, suspenseful and tightly controlled… Exciting stuff.”—Cynthia Macdonald, The Globe and Mail

“Alan feels like Eggers’s most fully-realized character to date … A sad and beautiful story.”—John Freeman, The Boston Globe

“[A] supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad ... With ferocious energy and versatility, [Eggers] has been studying how the world is remaking America ... Eggers has developed an exceptional gift for opening up the lives of others so as to offer the story of globalism as it develops and, simultaneously, to unfold a much more archetypal tale of struggle and loneliness and drift.”—Pico Iyer, The New York Times Book Review

"Hits you with prose as stark and luminous as its Saudi Arabian setting…It should confirm Eggers's position among America's leading contemporary writers."—Independent

Kirkus Reviews
A middle-aged man scrapes for his identity in a Saudi Arabian city of the future. This book by McSweeney's founder Eggers (Zeitoun, 2009, etc.) inverts the premise of his fiction debut, 2002's You Shall Know Our Velocity. That novel was a globe-trotting tale about giving away money; this one features a hero stuck in one place and desperate to make a bundle. Alan Clay is a 50-something American salesperson for an information technology company angling for a contract to wire King Abdullah Economic City, a Saudi commerce hub. Alan and his team are initially anxious to deliver their presentation to the king--which features a remote speaker appearing via hologram--but they soon learn the country moves at a snail-like pace. So Alan drifts: He wanders the moonscape of the sparely constructed city, obsesses over a cyst on his back, bonds with his troubled driver, pursues fumbling relationships with two women, ponders his debts and recalls his shortcomings as a salesman, husband and father. This book is in part a commentary on America's eroding economic might (there are numerous asides about offshoring and cheap labor), but it's mostly a potent, well-drawn portrait of one man's discovery of where his personal and professional selves split and connect. Eggers has matured greatly as a novelist since Velocity: Where that novel was gassy and knotted, this one has crisp sentences and a solid structure. He masters the hurry-up-and-wait rhythm of Alan's visit, accelerating the prose when the King's arrival seems imminent, then slackening it again. If anything, the novel's flaws seem to be products of too much tightening: An incident involving a death back home feels clipped and some passages are reduced to fable-like simplicity. Even so, Eggers' fiction has evolved in the past decade. This book is firm proof that that social concerns can make for resonant storytelling.
The Barnes & Noble Review

"Literature is news that stays news." —Ezra Pound

I begin this review of A Hologram for the King with a wincing, narratively inconsequential quotation that I wasn't going to include — though it spoke loudly to me — until the Aurora shooting snapped it back:

Who did young men talk to? Young men have no one to talk to, and even when they do, they don't know what to say or how. And this is why they commit most of the crimes of the world.
That, like many other scorching insights that Dave Eggers artfully ignites in this splendid and beseeching novel, is no hologram. It is a crack of reality. Eggers gifts us with a telluric, gnostically modern story that speaks of many frustrations: of young men, trapped in the locked-in syndrome of Saudi Arabia; and of one not- so-young man — Alan Clay, the protagonist — a battered victim of his own follies and America's global misdirection. There is no mincing of words: "Now he was fifty-four years old and was as intriguing to corporate America as an airplane built from mud."

Alan is a consultant, sent to Saudi Arabia on behalf of an omnivorous, merciless global technology company named Reliant, with a mission to sell King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia a state-of- the-art, tele-immersion video conference system. A freighted hologram. It is a huge corporate deal for Reliant, and a last-gasp personal deal for Alan.

The name Clay is no accident; Alan, we learn rapidly, has been molded by everyone, and everything, except himself. Those shaping and ruinous hands include his ex-wife, his daughter, his friend's suicide, his financial ruin, globalization, and his father's primal energy, which threatens to overpower Alan's wispy hold on life.

The novel begins with an epigraph from Beckett: "It is not every day that we are needed." Epigraphs can be throwaways, rough signifiers of intent. This one is as predictive as DNA. I can't think of another contemporary novel that's as influenced by Waiting for Godot; even the wry, flat breath control of the prose strains with Beckettian tension. This is a novel largely about how best to strain meaning out of life during the vastness of the interminable wait, a wait grown bulky with pain by virtue of our own failures, and the world's smirking noncompliance. As Eggers puts it:
The greatest use of a human was to be useful. Not to consume, not to watch, but to do something for someone else that improved their life, even for a few minutes.
But Beckett is not the only literary master rattling around Eggers's overstocked brain. Hologram is a kind of anxiety- of-influence attic, with echoes of Bellow, Cheever, Updike, Heller, Miller, and — to crash the category for a moment — Tom Friedman. America's slow-motion decline is a central character for Eggers. This is a novel of the moment and the age.

And all of that is juicily bundled into the first page, as Alan Clay checks into his hotel in Saudi Arabia after a long flight.
He needed to sleep. He had to travel an hour north at seven for an eight o'clock arrival at the King Abdullah Economic City. There he and his team would set up a holographic tele- conference system and would wait to present it to King Abdullah himself. If Abdullah was impressed, he would award the IT contract for the entire city to Reliant, and Alan's commission, in the mid-six figures, would fix everything that ailed him.
What ails him is a laundry litany of woes that Eggers quickly dumps on the reader, the way 12b on an airplane might disgorge otherwise encumbered agonies to 12c. There is no feathery tease, no Yaddo foreshadowing. Staccato, incantatory sentences are crushed into short paragraphs, CliffsNotes of collapse: "He thought of his daughter Kit?he did not have the money to pay her tuition for the fall. He could not pay her tuition because he had made a series of foolish decisions in his life. He had not planned well." As a result, he is "virtually broke, nearly unemployed, the proprietor of a one-man consulting firm run out of his home office."

But Alan's dream of the Big Sale fizzles. He's less Billy Mays, more Vladimir and Estragon, as he's forced to navigate eleven days of postponements and mind-numbing excuses, the absurdity of which allow Eggers to skewer Saudi society with deadpan venom. Day after day Alan drives from Riyadh to the King Abdullah Economic City — which Eggers shorthands as KAEC — expecting the king. But he and his team of three shallow, befuddled, and desperate-for-adult-supervision twenty-something mini-consultants — sent by Reliant to complement Alan's middle- aged limitations — merely wait in their giant, un-air-conditioned tent. Eggers does a magnificent job of capturing the surreal quality of their experience, the combination of Saudi politeness, condescension, and obfuscation.

The forced languor gives Alan the opportunity to surrender to an anthology of regrets, doubts, and memories. Many of these are searingly personal, but Hologram is more than a psychological portrait, it is an economic one. This richly giving work is a double eulogy, for a wounded, whimpering middle-aged white American male and a wounded, bleeding American economy, the one Tom Friedman warns us is a shell of its former self. "He had not had courage when he needed it" is how Eggers describes Alan, but the description holds for all of us.

Eggers pursues his economic forensics through the canny depth of the hologram as a command-and-control metaphor. It's a proxy for a world that, itself, increasingly lacks reality, one that is there and not-there, seeable but not touchable. The conceit is everywhere, and while the impasto is heavy, the cumulative effect oozes potency.

The first surrogate hologram is the KAEC itself. Alan ends up with a driver, a young man named Yousef — who figures in a subplot that serves both to reveal the rottenness of Saudi society and to give Alan a chance to return to the soil, the glory of the physical.

Yousef, is convinced that KAEC is a fantasy that will collapse in economic ruin:
"?it won't happen. It might have happened at one time, but there's no more money?. They're going broke in Dubai. Everything was overvalued and now they're busted. They owe money all over the planet, and now KAEC's dead. Everything's dead."
Later we learn that the cynical Yousef is right. The Wolfgang Puck and the Pizzeria Uno will forever remain under construction.

The American economy is a hologram, too. Eggers obsesses over its lack of physical mass, the collapse of manufacturing, our essential lack of manliness. He uses Alan's father — who lives on a farm in New Hampshire and whose physicality shames his son — to drive the point home: "Every day?all over Asia, hundreds of container ships are leaving their ports?. Talk about three- dimensional, Alan. These are actual things. They're making actual things over there, and we're making websites and holograms."

Once, when he was working for Schwinn, and before the company went bust, Alan labored in the world of the real, selling "something solid that would be integral to a thousand childhood memories." Eggers turns Alan's private despair into a national keen; today, our bicycle production is outsourced to China, where "ninety-nine percent?are being made?in one province." Eggers is channeling both the Left and the Right; one of the few things that unites America is a mutuality of despair.

Eggers finds holograms in at scales grand and quotidian: even the simple act of selling a home is chimerical. Eggers describes the process with the uninflected, unflinching prose that characterizes the novel.
A woman had staged Alan's house. There are people who do this. They come into your house and make it more appealing than you ever could. They brighten the darkness you have brought into it with your human mess.
But the hologram-in-the-room is Alan's life itself. Relentlessly, the narrator's observations and Alan's interiority merge in a crescendo of the futile. Eggers just lays it out.
Year by year, there was less work for a guy like him.

The meaning of his life was an elusive seam of water of hundreds of feet below the surface, and he would periodically drop a bucket down the well, fill it, bring it up, and drink from it. But it did not sustain him for long.
And from the point of view of the three young consultant comrades:
They thought he was nothing, an irrelevant man. Did they know he had swum in the Rio Negro with crocodiles?
It is here that we feel the press of the great desperation of sad white males, the frayed and baying creatures of Bellow, Roth, Cheever, Updike, and even Heller (in Something Happened). Alan wonders: "Why was he in a tent a hundred miles from Jeddah, yes, but also why was he alive on Earth. Very often the meaning was obscured."

The hollow existential thud you hear when you knock on Alan's life has many echoes, and Bellow is one of the loudest. Alan's letters to his daughter, which he starts, tosses, and launches again, are unmistakably Herzogian:
"Kit, your mother is made of different stuff than you or me. More volatile and flammable materials."

"Dear Kit, The key thing is managed awareness of your role in the world and history. Think too much and you know you are nothing. Think just enough and you know you are small, but important to some. That's the best you can do."

"Kit, Live long enough and you'll disappoint everyone."
As for Alan's sexual encounter with Zahra, the Saudi-Swiss- Lebanese doctor who operates on him to remove a benign cyst (perhaps the only benignity in his life), it feels like Roth or even Updike could have written it:
?they found themselves apologizing for various failures, for parts of their bodies that would not cooperate, or did so only intermittently. When he was ready, she was not, and this sent him shrinking. Still, they caressed each other desperately, clumsily, with diminishing returns.
And then there is the consuming shadow of Willy Loman. Alan is nothing but a salesman. He dropped out of college to sell Fuller Brush products. His first boss, Joe Trivoli, taught him that everything can be sold using one of four angles: money, romance, self-preservation, and recognition. Those are angles that Alan tries to remember, struggles to employ, but — as it was for Willy — the world he knew has vanished.

Back in the day, everyone cared what Alan had to say. When he would "?find himself in a hotel anywhere?with half a dozen young sales reps, he knew he had an audience that wanted to hear about what worked and had not?. They'd laugh at his jokes they'd hang on his every word. They respected him and needed him."

There's that needed again.

But Eggers jolts us out of that warm memory bath:
Now?he had nothing to teach these people. They could set up a hologram in a tent in the desert, while he'd arrive three hours late and wouldn't know where to plug the thing in. They had no interest in manufacturing or the?person-to- person sales he'd spent his life perfecting. None of them started? selling actual objects to actual people.
So when Alan recalls building a wall in his suburban house — "Building the wall gave Alan as much pleasure as he'd known in years" — it is impossible not to be reminded of what Biff says about his father in the Requiem section: "You know something, Charley, there's more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made."

This is serious stuff, and realizing he is onto something that requires no artifice, Eggers's bag of meta-tricks has been put aside. "Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over," wrote Hemingway, and Eggers takes the admonition to heart. Gone is the self-conscious narrative smudging and preening that came to irritate those who prefer their fiction/nonfiction boundaries to be as aggressively policed as the border between North and South Korea. The only Dave Eggers to be located in Hologram is contained, unexperimentally, in the wry and unabashedly empathetic voice of the omniscient narrator.

There is also no complexity of plot in A Hologram for the King. Density is not an Eggers hallmark; even his hybrid-fuel books are high-concept, virtually panting for a screenplay deal. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the novel that lofted him to the apogee of the pop altitude by simultaneously abstracting and domesticating tragedy, is a memoir that can be summarized on a scrap of the heart: young man raises his younger brother after both their parents die of cancer. His last book, the novel What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentine Achak Deng — a fictionalized treatment of life of one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" — was a bluntly simple narrative.

So even the most impatient reader will be thrilled with Eggers's instant plunge into the heart of his story. The novel's narrative business — not exactly a Jamesian labyrinth — is delivered in one convenient package, FedEx style, on the first page. Alan's mission, his distress and duress, his life-busting business failure, his friend who commits suicide by walking clothed into the lake next to Alan's house, all the thematic scaffolding is erected in this zygotian stage.

For a novel largely about waiting, Eggers whisks us with almost breathless speed to the end, where the wait finally resolves on page 310 of a 312-page novel, when the king makes his appearance. He perches on a "throne-like chair" and observes the demonstration of the hologram, which "went off flawlessly." The king "clapped gently but said nothing. There were no follow-up questions. Neither he nor anyone from his entourage spoke to anyone from Reliant?there were four layers of men between him in the king, who left in minutes?"

The group disperses immediately. "The young people of Reliant" flee Saudi Arabia, but Alan remains. Dutifully, he returns to the tent for the next three days. Eventually and unsurprisingly, he is informed that the contract has been awarded to a Chinese firm that could provision the services quicker, and for half the price. Globalization's final assault.

Alan, though, is in no hurry to go back. He decides to stick around for a while. Perhaps other work will appear. Perhaps one of the Saudis will take pity on him. Perhaps he really has no place to go. The book ends simply and sadly. "So he would stay. He had to. Otherwise who would be here when the King came again?"

It's not just Eggers's ending, though. Beckett returns to close the book along with its author; that valedictory line is virtually interchangeable with the resigned yet hopeful fatality of this one from Godot: "If he came yesterday and we weren't here you may be sure he won't come again today."

Dave Eggers is forty-two, and he inhabits the fifty-four-year-old Alan Clay with startling emotional fullness. He is looking forward, not back. The three young consultants — Rachel, Cayley, and Brad — are curiously unformed. They have almost nothing to say and certainly nothing to think. This is not a novel that attempts to capture the Millennial sensibility; it has nothing in common with deconstructions of youthful angst like Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision, Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End, or Keith Gessen's All the Sad Young Literary Men. It could even be said that Eggers is disdainful of his generation-now characters; after they they've lost the bid, he notes that they go "back to the their laptops and seemed happy enough now that there were couches in the tent, and food, and a strong wi-fi signal?"

A Hologram for the King deserves much praise and, pace Willy, attention. It has era-defining potential. It is possessed of a hugely understanding heart, and a contemporary but not arch voice that vibrates with well-controlled intensity and anger. Even tiny moments, like Alan's description of how a meaningless problem with a Banana Republic purchase destroyed his credit and his hopes, are devastating. They capture the fragility of everything. We are all waiting on the precipice.

Adam Hanft is a nationally known cultural critic, an authority on social trends and branding. He is the founder and CEO of Hanft Projects and blogs for the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Fast Company, and Politics Daily. He is also a frequent commentator on National Public Radio's Marketplace, and is the co-writer, with Faith Popcorn, of The Dictionary of the Future. You can follow him at twitter.com/hanft.

Reviewer: Adam Hanft

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781938073311
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/1/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 250
  • Sales rank: 60,246
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet 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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Read an Excerpt

I.

Alan Clay woke up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was May 30, 2010. He had spent two days on planes to get there.

In Nairobi he had met a woman. They sat next to each other while they waited for their flights. She was tall, curvy, with tiny gold earrings. She had ruddy skin and a lilting voice. Alan liked her more than many of the people in his life, people he saw every day. She said she lived in upstate New York. Not that far away from his home in suburban Boston.

If he had courage he would have found a way to spend more time with her. But instead he got on his flight and he flew to Riyadh and then to Jeddah. A man picked him up at the airport and drove him to the Hilton.

With a click, Alan entered his room at the Hilton at 1:12 a.m. He quickly prepared to go to bed. He needed to sleep. He had to travel an hour north at seven for an eight o’clock arrival at the King Abdullah Economic City. There he and his team would set up a holographic teleconference system and would wait to present it to King Abdullah himself. If Abdullah was impressed, he would award the IT contract for the entire city to Reliant, and Alan’s commission, in the mid-six figures, would fix everything that ailed him.

So he needed to feel rested. To feel prepared. But instead he had spent four hours in bed not sleeping.

He thought of his daughter, Kit, who was in college, a very good and expensive college. He did not have the money to pay her tuition for the fall. He could not pay her tuition because he had made a series of foolish decisions in his life. He had not planned well. He had not had courage when he needed it.

His decisions had been short sighted.

The decisions of his peers had been short sighted.

These decisions had been foolish and expedient.

But he hadn’t known at the time that his decisions were short sighted, foolish or expedient. He and his peers did not know they were making decisions that would leave them, leave Alan, as he now was — virtually broke, nearly unemployed, the proprietor of a one-man consulting firm run out of his home office.

He was divorced from Kit’s mother, Ruby. They had now been apart longer than they had been together. Ruby was an unholy pain in the ass who now lived in California and contributed nothing financially to Kit’s finances. College is your thing, she told him. Be a man about it, she said.

Now Kit would not be in college in the fall. Alan had put his house on the market but it had not yet sold. Otherwise he was out of options. He owed money to many people, including $18k to a pair of bicycle designers who had built him a prototype for a new bicycle he thought he could manufacture in the Boston area. For this he was called an idiot. He owed money to Jim Wong, who had loaned him $45k to pay for materials and the first and last on a warehouse lease. He owed another $65k or so to a half-dozen friends and would-be partners.

So he was broke. And when he realized he could not pay Kit’s tuition, it was too late to apply for any other aid. Too late to transfer.

Was it a tragedy that a healthy young woman like Kit would take a semester off of college? No, it was not a tragedy. The long, tortured history of the world would take no notice of a missed semester of college for a smart and capable young woman like Kit. She would survive. It was no tragedy. Nothing like tragedy.

They said it was a tragedy what had happened to Charlie Fallon. Charlie Fallon froze to death in the lake near Alan’s house. The lake next to Alan’s house.

Alan was thinking of Charlie Fallon while not sleeping in the room at the Jeddah Hilton. Alan had seen Charlie step into the lake that day. Alan was driving away, on his way to the quarry. It had not seemed normal that a man like Charlie Fallon would be stepping into the shimmering black lake in September, but neither was it extraordinary.

Charlie Fallon had been sending Alan pages from books. He had been doing this for two years. Charlie had discovered the Transcendentalists late in life and felt a kinship with them. He had seen that Brook Farm was not far from where he and Alan lived, and he thought it meant something. He traced his Boston ancestry, hoping to find a connection, but found none. Still, he sent Alan pages, with passages highlighted.

The workings of a privileged mind, Alan thought. Don’t send me more of that shit, he told Charlie. But Charlie grinned and sent more.

So when Alan saw Charlie stepping into the lake at noon on a Saturday he saw it as a logical extension of the man’s new passion for the land. He was only ankle-deep when Alan passed him that day.

II.

When Alan woke in the Jeddah Hilton he was already late. It was 8:15. He had fallen asleep just after five.

He was expected at the King Abdullah Economic City at eight. It was at least an hour away. After he showered and dressed and got a car to the site it would be ten. He would be two hours late on the first day of his assignment here. He was a fool. He was more a fool every year.

He tried Cayley’s cellphone. She answered, her husky voice. In another lifetime, a different spin of the wheel wherein he was younger and she older and both of them stupid enough to attempt it, he and Cayley would have been something terrible.

—Hello Alan! It’s beautiful here. Well, maybe not beautiful. But you’re not here.

He explained. He did not lie. He could no longer muster the energy, the creativity required.

—Well, don’t worry, she said, with a small laugh — that voice of hers implied the possibility of, celebrated the existence of a fantastic life of abiding sensuality — we’re just setting up. But you’ll have to get your own ride. Any of you know how Alan will get a ride out here?

She seemed to be yelling to the rest of the team. The space sounded cavernous. He pictured a dark and hollow place, three young people holding candles, waiting for him and his lantern.

—He can’t rent a car, she said to them.

And now to him: —Can you rent a car, Alan?

—I’ll figure it out, he said.

He called the lobby.

—Hello. Alan Clay here. What’s your name?

He asked names. A habit Joe Trivole instilled back in the Fuller Brush days. Ask names, repeat names. You remember people’s names, they remember you.

The clerk said his name was Edward.

—Edward?

—Yes sir. My name is Edward. Can I help you?

—Where are you from, Edward?

—Jakarta, Indonesia, sir.

—Ah, Jakarta, Alan said. Then realized he had nothing to say about Jakarta. He knew nothing about Jakarta.

—Edward, what do you think of me renting a car through the hotel?

—Do you have an international driver’s license?

—No.

—Then no, I don’t think you should do this.

Alan called the concierge. He explained he needed a driver to take him to the King Abdullah Economic City.

—This will take a few minutes, the concierge said. His accent was not Saudi. There were apparently no Saudis working at this Saudi hotel. Alan had assumed as much. There were few Saudis working anywhere, he’d been told. They imported their labor in all sectors. We must find someone appropriate to drive you, the concierge said.

—You can’t just call a taxi?

—Not exactly, sir.

Alan’s blood went hot, but this was a mess of his making. He thanked the man and hung up. He knew you couldn’t just call a taxi in Jeddah or Riyadh — or so said the guidebooks, all of which were overwrought when it came to elucidating the dangers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to foreign travelers. The State Department had Saudi on the highest alert. Kidnapping was not unlikely. Alan might be sold to al-Qaeda, ransomed, transported across borders. But Alan had never felt in danger anywhere, and his assignments had taken him to Juarez in the nineties, Guatemala in the eighties.

* * *

The phone rang.

—We have a driver for you. When would you like him?

—As soon as possible.

—He’ll be here in twelve minutes.

Alan showered and shaved his mottled neck. He put on his undershirt, his white button-down, khakis, loafers, tan socks. Just dress like an American businessman, he’d been told. There were the cautionary tales of overzealous Westerners wearing thobes, headdresses. Trying to blend in, making an effort. This effort was not appreciated.

While fixing the collar of his shirt, Alan felt the lump on his neck that he’d first discovered a month earlier. It was the size of a golf ball, protruding from his spine, feeling like cartilage. Some days he figured it was part of his spine, because what else could it be?

It could be a tumor.

There on his spine, a lump like that — it had to be invasive and deadly. Lately he’d been cloudy of thought and clumsy of gait, and it made a perfect and terrible sense that there was something growing there, eating away at him, sapping him of vitality, squeezing away all acuity and purpose.

He’d planned to see someone about it, but then had not. A doctor could not operate on something like that. Alan didn’t want radiation, didn’t want to go bald. No, the trick was to touch it occasionally, track attendant symptoms, touch it some more, then do nothing.

In twelve minutes Alan was ready.

He called Cayley.

—I’m leaving the hotel now.

—Good. We’ll be all set up by the time you get here.

The team could get there without him, the team could set up without him. And so why was he there at all? The reasons were specious but had gotten him here. The first was that he was older than the other members of the team, all of them children, really, none beyond thirty. Second, Alan had once known King Abdullah’s nephew when they had been part of a plastics venture in the mid-nineties, and Eric Ingvall, the Reliant VP in New York, felt that this was a good enough connection that it would get the attention of the King. Probably not true, but Alan had chosen not to change their minds.

Alan was happy for the work. He needed the work. The eighteen months or so before the call from Ingvall had been humbling. Filing a tax return for $22,350 in taxable income was an experience he hadn’t expected to have at his age. He’d been home consulting for seven years, each year with dwindling revenue. No one was spending. Even five years ago business had been good; old friends threw him work, and he was useful to them. He’d connect them with vendors he knew, pull favors, cut deals, cut fat. He’d felt worthwhile.

Now he was fifty-four years old and was as intriguing to corporate America as an airplane built from mud. He could not find work, could not sign clients. He had moved from Schwinn to Huffy to Frontier Manufacturing Partners to Alan Clay Consulting to sitting at home watching DVDs of the Red Sox winning the Series in ’04 and ’07. The game when they hit four consecutive home runs against the Yankees. April 22, 2007. He’d watched those four and a half minutes a hundred times and each viewing brought him something like joy. A sense of rightness, of order. It was a victory that could never be taken away.

Alan called the concierge.

—Is the car there?

—I’m sorry, he will be late.

—Is this the guy from Jakarta?

—It is.

—Edward.

—Yes.

—Hi again, Edward. How late will the car be?

—Twenty more minutes. Can I send some food up to you?

Alan went to the window and looked out. The Red Sea was calm, unremarkable from this height. A six-lane highway ran just alongside it. A trio of men in white fished at the pier.

Alan looked at the balcony next to his. He could see his reflection in the glass. He looked like an average man. When shaved and dressed, he passed for legitimate. But something had darkened under his brow. His eyes had retreated and people were noticing. At his last high school reunion, a man, a former football player whom Alan had despised, said, Alan Clay, you’ve got a thousand-mile stare. What happened to you?

A gust of wind came from the sea. In the distance, a container ship moved across the water. Here and there a few other boats, tiny as toys.

There had been a man next to him on the flight from Boston to London. He was drinking gin and tonics and monologuing.

—It was good for a while, right? he’d said. What was it, thirty years or so? Maybe twenty, twenty-two? But it was over, without a doubt it was, and now we had to be ready to join western Europe in an era of tourism and shopkeeping. Wasn’t that the gist of what that man on the plane had said? Something like that.

He wouldn’t shut up, and the drinks kept coming.

—We’ve become a nation of indoor cats, he’d said. A nation of doubters, worriers, overthinkers. Thank God these weren’t the kind of Americans who settled this country. They were a different breed! They crossed the country in wagons with wooden wheels! People croaked along the way, and they barely stopped. Back then, you buried your dead and kept moving.

The man, who was drunk and maybe unhinged, too, was, like Alan, born into manufacturing and somewhere later got lost in worlds tangential to the making of things. He was soaking himself in gin and tonics and was finished with it all. He was on his way to France, to retire near Nice, in a small house his father had built after WWII. That was that.

Alan had humored the man, and they had compared some thoughts about China, Korea, about making clothes in Vietnam, the rise and fall of the garment industry in Haiti, the price of a good room in Hyderabad. Alan had spent a few decades with bikes, then bounced around between a dozen or so other stints, consulting, helping companies compete through ruthless efficiency, robots, lean manufacturing, that kind of thing. And yet year by year, there was less work for a guy like him. People were done manufacturing on American soil. How could he or anyone argue for spending five to ten times what it cost in Asia? And when Asian wages rose to untenable levels — $5 an hour, say — there was Africa. The Chinese were already making sneakers in Nigeria. Jack Welch said manufacturing should be on a perpetual barge, circling the globe for the cheapest conditions possible, and it seemed the world had taken him at his word. The man on the plane wailed in protest: It should matter where something was made!
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 28 )
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(5)

4 Star

(6)

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(7)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    Hilariously spot-on to the contradictions of life in the Kingdom

    Having spent time just down the road from KAEC on my own surreal Saudi business experience, I frequently burst out laughing while reading this book. Yes, it is really like that in Saudi Arabia. A country of surprising people and crazy funny contradictions. Alan Clay's story adds a hefty sadness to the humor as real relationships develop. Dave Eggers is brilliant.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2012

    Royal Flush

    Literarily, this is what you get when you cross *Waiting for Godot* with *Death of a Salesman.* It's a powerful & very discomfiting look at America's present, written for people with short attention spans. I'd recommend it in a heartbeat, but Dave Eggers has done better. And will do better. -- catwak

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    While the book presentation is handsome and original; I had a di

    While the book presentation is handsome and original; I had a difficult time getting past the writing style. Conversations are marked with dashes which I found distracting. The narrative is solid and at times compelling. I didn't care about the main character Alan because I'm not given much of a reason to care. He's an IT businessman hoping for a very substantial deal with a Saudi King to help him get out of debt. Needed more depth earlier to hold my interest.

    3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2013

    Three-Stars

    A nice read and a good bit of satire but leaves much to be desired.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 6, 2012

    I had high hopes for this book, and felt very few of those hopes

    I had high hopes for this book, and felt very few of those hopes were met. The idea is right for the times, the execution though was sloppy, hurried, and rang false. I guess someone who is not really going through the problems others are facing can truly identify, and Mr. Eggers ma yhave been out of his element here. It came off as stereotyped, phony, and hurried. Too many issues lumped together, and not real in any case. The main characer Alan was not even someone I could admire. Having been through what he experienced after 9/11, his reactions and motives were off. The one star is for effort, but in this case someone should have told Mr. Eggers to move on to another topic he knows better.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2013

    Yyhghyyhgyuh. Ihbbiy

    Ibgioyymiiykhyyjihhhui hijack ghkk.ubijybj iuubbhbkk bun

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    A multi-level triumph

    "Holgram" succeeds on three levels. A brilliant and rollicking portrayel
    of schizophrenic Saudi society (this reviewer spent the better part of a decade in Jeddah and Riyadh); a passionate lament for the demise of productive America; and a searing depiction of the human condition ("attention must be paid").

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Hologram for the King

    What was this story about? A rambling, disconnected presentation of a character with a rambling, disconnected life. At the end, the reader is left asking whaaat?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2012

    a no-nonsense book

    a no-nonsense book

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2012

    Hologram for a king

    Review

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2014

    Worthwhile, with it's challenges

    Well written, but the tone of defeat for the main character through nearly the whole book, Alan's detours, the long shadows of his ex wife & daughter we never meet, and the ephemeral quality of many of the characters make it a little hard to get through.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 9, 2014

    Eggers does a brilliant job of parsing out the dizzying frustrat

    Eggers does a brilliant job of parsing out the dizzying frustrations Westerners have in the region when expecting rationality, cause and effect, planning or any consideration of people's time. I found Alan's plight very fairly characterized and could easily relate to it. The romantic entanglement felt very manufactured though, and highly unlikely -- at least as it was portrayed in the novel. On the whole, the novel is definitely worth reading -- and is a useful primer for anybody considering work in the region.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2014

    Brian B

    Just plain poor. Plot is very childish and just keeps just worst as you read. Not sure what the point was but must have some great political message because the NYT loves it.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

    Eh....

    I read "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" when it came out and was enthralled with it. The writing style, the emotions he brought out, all of it. So, I was expecting and hoping to enjoy this book just as much - didn't happen. I'm sure its a mark of talent that an author can write two books in such completely different voices - and just unfortunate I guess, that I didn't care for this voice at all. This was the kind of book you make yourself continue to read because knowing the author, you feel certain it will be worthwhile. I held on to that hope right up to the last chapter when I knew finally that my hopes were in vain! Too, too dry, not an interesting enough story to hold interest. Seems as if the author was trying too hard to be"subtle" and self-important. Just did not come across for me...but the same thing happened with Jeffrey Eugenides' book "The Marriage Plot" which I purchased (& made myself painfully finish), strictly on the strengh of the fact that "Middlesex" is one of my all time favorite books, as is "A Heartbreaking Work...".

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews

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