There is a palpable arid and hollow feeling throughout much of Dave Eggers’ magnificent new novel, A Hologram For The King. It is set in Jeddah, on the Saudi Arabian coast, and peopled by characters who seem adrift in the vast desert and alien to their own sense of self. But Eggers writes with a unique and likable style that permeates through the despair until his characters slowly discover the joy that comes from the simplest human interaction. And in the end, redemption is found in the unlikeliest of places.
Eggers is the brainchild behind the McSweeney’s publishing empire that has grown to include a quarterly collection of fiction, a DVD of short films and documentaries, a monthly magazine, The Believer, and one of the funniest and most original websites online.
But of all the hats he wears, and there are many others, Eggers is a master storyteller. A Hologram For The King, arguably his richest work so far, is about an ineffectual and despairing salesman who travels halfway around the world to pitch his company’s IT services to King Abdullah, only to find that he’s totally lost and estranged from anything he ever loved. Over the course of the next 300-plus pages, Eggers’ protagonist/salesman fumbles his way toward a new understanding of both himself and his universe.
Along the way, we meet a dozen or more characters whose job it is to assist the book’s protagonist as he prepares for the king’s visit and tries to make sense of his crumbling, false existence. And, ironically, the novel’s key moments and Alan’s epiphany come not in the desert, but instead atop a mountain, under the water and in the arms of a mysterious stranger.
A Hologram For The King is ultimately a powerful parable about the need for human connection and intimacy in a culture of alienation and shame. It’s a grand and eloquent statement in defiance of subjugation and a treatise on the sheer magic of human touch. Grade: A+