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A Hologram for the King

Cover of A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King

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.

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.

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  • From the book

    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...

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.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 25, 2012
    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.

  • Fortune "Completely engrossing. . . . Perfect."
  • National Book Awards citation "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."
  • The New York Times citation for Best Books of the Year "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."
  • Los Angeles Times "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."
  • The Chicago Tribune "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."
  • Tampa Bay Times "Fascinating. . . . A Hologram for the King, as far from home as it might seem, is an acute slice of American life."
  • San Francisco Weekly "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?"
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer "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."
  • San Jose Mercury News "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."
  • Time Out Chicago "[Hologram] has at its center a sort of moral vision quest. . . . Alan's plight is endearing in its universality, even while being singularly his."
  • Baltimore City Paper "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."
  • Portland Mercury "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."
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