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Book Review: A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (4/5). I can’t put my finger on just why I loved this book.

15 Jul

My book clubs have been amazing at picking books lately. This last selection was something I never would have considered and hadn’t heard of, but I absolutely LOVED it.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

Alan Clay is almost bankrupt and almost hopeless. His last chance seems to be selling hologram telephone equipment to King Abdullah for the new Saudi Arabian city he’s building on the coast. The only problem is, no one knows when the King will arrive. He hasn’t been around in ages and his plans change constantly. So there’s nothing to do but wait.

Alan finds several ways to entertain himself in the very foreign country. His co-workers are much younger than himself and he makes new friends; a foreign worker living on an ex-pat compound who is able to introduce him to illicit parties and a local cab-driver who invites him to visit a house in the mountains where old traditions still hold strong. Alan is fascinated with the country around him as he waits and waits and waits and waits….

I absolutely adored this book. Eggers writing was engaging and his characters were very unique. I loved how they all had two sides; the side they showed in public, and the side they kept hidden from the eyes of the Kingdom. I know several Saudis and while what’s in this book might be extreme, I’ve heard that it’s pretty accurate. I loved that I could relate to this book in that way. I guess my only complaint would be that not much happened, but that seemed to be on purpose. Our book club leader said that this was often compared to ‘Waiting for Godot’ and I can see the similarities. If you couldn’t guess, I adored ‘Godot’ as well.

My cultural knowledge about Saudi Arabia is pretty basic. I had friends who were from there in college, dating a guy from there (SHOCKER!) and have a friend who lived on an ex-pat compound during an internship. So I guess I know more than the average Joe, but I’m no expert. The characters Eggers described fit a lot of the impressions I had from my friends. I loved the Danish consultant who took him to ex-pat parties; this reminded me of stories from my friend who lived there. I liked the conservative cousins Alan ran into at Yousef’s house in the mountains; they reminded me of some of the Saudi’s I met at school while others reminded me of Yousef. I think they showed a pretty good spread of Saudi’s and other residents.

Yousef was my favorite character. I liked his story the best. He’d gone to college in the US, wanted to do something different from his family and went out on his own. I liked the insight he was able to provide to Alan on Saudi life. He reminded me most of my friends from Saudi. On the surface, they’re conservative but they harbor a desire to be radical; to experience something different and break a few rules. But, when pushed too far, they’ll revert back to the conservative upbringing they had. This is one of the aspects of Saudi culture I find most fascinating; the attraction to changing things, but the simultaneous desire to keep it as it is.

Dave Eggers Image via

Dave Eggers
Image via

I related to Alan’s uncertainty in the story. He seems to bounce between decisions constantly and I feel that way about my life some times. I struggle to make hard commitments and decisions and I saw this in Alan’s inability to write his daughter a letter and his reluctance to see a doctor about the growth on his neck.

The plot line with Dr. Hakem was my favorite. She was such a strong woman who defied stereotypes of woman from that region. I loved how bold she was, even if I didn’t fully agree with her infidelity. I loved how sure she was of herself and her medical skill was commendable. It must have been a struggle to put a strong female character in a book set in Saudi Arabia, but Eggers did it really well.

I’m not sure I had a ‘least favorite’ part of this book. It was really solid throughout. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because not much happened, but then again that was the point. In my mind, it reached its full potential.

Would you believe this book is being made into a movie? Starring Tom Hanks? It seems to be true.

Waiting for Godot was once described as,

“a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats.”
-Vivian Mercier, The Irish Times 18 Feb. 1956

I think A Hologram for the King is a literary equivalent. Alan does nothing of importance, accomplishes nothing, and kept me turning the pages as quickly as possible. I think this is very reminiscent of life; we go from day-to-day, doing something, but never really going anywhere. At least, we don’t know where we’re going and we don’t know when we’ll get there. The characters in most stories have a purpose; a drive, an adventure, a mission. Alan Clay had a mission, to make a sale, but he doesn’t do it. Moreover, he has to wait before he can even try to do it. In what world is that a mission? This book is memorable for its blandness.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book might be the worst example of a ‘Writer’s Takeaway’ section yet. I don’t think we should try to replicate this style. It’s a unique form to write a book like this and I don’t think many amateur authors (I’m assuming not many seasoned professionals are reading this) could pull it off. I think the best thing to take from this is that your character can always be doing something, but it won’t always lead to an end, but you can still make it interesting.

I adored this book. Four out of five stars.

This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: Saudi Arabia” for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Dave Eggers’ A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING | Bite the Book
A Hologram for the King. Dave Eggers Come Back, Please | Walworth Sentiments
Failure of a Salesman – Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King | Books and Bits
2012 National Book Award finalist in Fiction: Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King | Vaguely Borgesian

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