In Dave Eggers’ “A Hologram for the King,” an almost broke salesman, close to unemployment, is trying in vain to support his daughter’s college education. His only hope: pitch and sell a holographic teleconference system to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to be used at the King Abdullah Economic City. Eggers’ novel is fable-like in its oddness and moral-learning driven plot. The novel was a National Book Award finalist — and it might even win a well-deserved Pulitzer.
Many different themes overlap, and the novel’s complexities work together to produce a depressing, but engaging plot line. The book is a commentary on the global economy, a tale of caution to pipe dreams, an attack at the guaranteed American Dream and a fascinating character study of a depressed man. But ultimately, “A Hologram for the King” is about inevitable failure, false hopes and promises.
While Alan believes the King Abdullah Economic City is the world’s next Dubai, locals are skeptical and dismissive of the project. They say it’s not possible to build a city poised to be the next world market hub. When Alan arrives at the King Abdullah Economic City, he is given a royal roundabout. The King, or his contact, isn’t here, Alan is told, but surely they will be here the next day.
This goes on for days, and then for weeks. The situation becomes more desperate, and it is evident from the get-go that Alan is going to have a rough time in Saudi Arabia. While he waits for the King’s arrival, Alan has a series of adventures in the city of Jeddah. He becomes friends with a local cab driver, who is mildly concerned someone is trying to tie explosives to his car. He reminisces about his dead, frozen neighbor, his failed marriage and his tense relationship with his patriotic father.
Alan is sad and timid, which is odd for a salesman, and had an upbringing that left him a shell of a man. He is easily frightened. Despite this, Alan is hopeful that he will be able to sell his company’s pitch to the King. Convinced of these half-promises, Alan sticks around in Jeddah far longer than any reasonable human being would. He keeps getting the royal run around. Just like holograms themselves, the entire trip and sales-pitch are an illusion. Everything seems like its just for show.
It is not the novel’s ending that makes the book so great; it is the journey that Eggers takes his readers on that makes “A Hologram for the King” so strong.
“A Hologram for the King” might have a shot of winning the Pulitzer this year. It impeccably deals with American issues like unemployment, divorce and migrating families in a non-American landscape. But, Pulitzer or not, Eggers’ newest novel is a winner.