Monday, July 9, 2012

A Hologram for the King

Dave Eggers
A Hologram for the King

McSweeney's, 2012

54-year-old Alan Clay arrives in Jeddah of Saudi Arabia as the leader of a group of three people - representatives of the IT-company, whose mission is to show holographic presentation to the King Abdullah. For Alan, this project is the final straw, the chance to get out of life’s crisis. He owes a large sum of money to friends and partners, he’s been unemployed, he can not even sell his house to pay debts and college tuition for his daughter Kit. He has long been divorced from his wife, Ruby, who was smarter than him and wanted to change the world. Alan his whole lige has been involved in the production. He started at a young age in his home state to make a brand’s bicycles. His business was going up the hill, expanded, until it was times like these that bicycles (and everything else in the world) has become much cheaper to produce in China. Alan had to close his business, he had nothing to sell.

In Saudi Arabia, the company which represents Alan and his team has a goal to sell the latest IT-equipment for the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). Meanwhile, the site of a developing place is a huge desert, with a business center and a number of service buildings on it.

On the first day Alan misses the shuttle, which takes the group from the hotel to the site, Alan can hardly call a taxi. Talkative taxi driver turns out to be an Arab named Yousef, who had studied for some time in the States, and is now taking business courses in SA. Before getting into a taxi, Yousef examines a car: the husband of one of Yousef’s former girlfriends suspects that she is cheating on him with Yousef, and the taxi driver fears that the jealous husband could kill him. Arrived at the place Alan is a bit stunned by what he has seen: his group is not placed in the building, but in the tent. Young employees, including one man and two women, complain that inside the tent the Internet connection doesn’t work: there is no cable connection, and Wi-Fi is very weak. Nothing has instructed the group. Alan and his team for a long time will be waiting for the arrival of the King.
If you do not know what to write a book about, simply put a protagonist in a hotel room in another country, and the story will tell itself. That’s a piece of advice to young writers. Eggers is far from a newcomer, but he did not disdain to use this scheme. How many novels have been written about how the middle-aged men, desperate, lost, lonely, are a thousand miles from home in search of answers to vital questions? Hundreds. Does Eggers discover new land? No. Does this mean that his book «A Hologram for the King» is bad? On the contrary. Egger’s novel turned out a strong one: catchy, funny and sad. If previously Eggers was famous for his baroque style, five hundred pages and more novels, this one is an example of conciseness and brevity. The author has thrown everything superfluous out, removed unnecessary fat from the bones of the book, leaving the bare necessities. His prose has nothing hip and hipster now, just man's cold prose, prose that not afraid to point to human wickedness.

Mot so much is going on in the novel, or even next to nothing, just waiting (the epigraph is taken from Beckett), driving between the tent in the desert and the hotel. The novel though is not boring. Pages fly no worse than in any thriller. Eggers fills slow 'now' with the protagonist’s memories of the neighbor’s suicide, the failure of the business, swimming in a river with crocodiles, pulling his wife out of jail. Alan, though his life seems to be falling apart, never wonderes "what if? '. He can not even imagine that once at a certain part of his life he could try to change himself. Move to another activity, find another wife, save money for a rainy day. All of this speaks not only of Alan as incurious, but that he looks forward. He did not intend to surrender, ending the novel points to this too.

This novels is rather comical, the situation itself which Alan and his team are in is causing a smile. After the first half the novel becomes more profound, but more uneven. Journey to the castle with Yousef (a reference to Kafka) reads quite strange, the story sags a bit, the book slips. But the ending redeems all.

What else impresses in «A Hologram for the King», is the fact that this is a story of not just one person, but the whole Western civilization. Eggers tells not just the story of a man whose life is falling apart, but of civilization, which also goes by the wayside. The Western world has become a nation of cats, which are curled up on the couch, not wanting to do anything. The Western world is now producing only holograms and the websites that you can not touch. All the rest is produced in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Western world has become hostage to the East. Eggers does not predict what will happen to Western civilization, but we see Alan as a victim of the coming changes.

This novel is a lively, full of emotions and feelings, the one that you can touch. It’s a real thing, not a hologram.

1 comment:

  1. A sparse and eloquent story of fading dreams, delusions & the remorseless shift of global power. Scenes remain after the last word is read, creating holograms for the mind.
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