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A Hologram For The King

The perfect beach read

I’m discovering I have a soft spot for Dave Eggers and his ingenious way of writing about modern life. I very much enjoyed The Circle (Eggers’ satire on our obsession with technology and connectivity) and A Hologram for The King, set in the ghostly King Abdullah Economic City in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, is just as good. A delightful, light and funny read to pack on your holiday. Can’t wait for his new book Heroes of the Frontier comes out in July!

Fifty-four year old Alan Clay is on his last legs. His long-term dream of building quality bicycles in America shattered by the Chinese competition, his marriage a failure and his bank account worryingly empty. Along comes an offer to be part of a team selling the latest technology, a hologram style telephone conference system, to the King of Saudi Arabia. This is Alan’s last chance to avoid bankruptcy and to have to pull his daughter out of college. It’s an offer he cannot turn down.

The King Abdullah Economic City, the largest urban construction project in the world, actually exists. A modern city built in the desert, from scratch, to house 2 million people. A gargantuan project only a totalitarian ruler could instigate, but perhaps not the success that King Abdullah had envisioned…

The road straightened out and again cut through desert without feature or form. Streetlights were placed every twenty feet or so, but otherwise there was nothing at all, the whole thing like a recently abandoned development on the moon […] The entirety of the new city thus far comprised three buildings. There was a pastel-pink condominium, which was more or less finished but seemed empty. There was a two-storey welcome centre, vaguely Mediteranean in style, surrounded by fountains, most of which were dry.

This is where Alan and his team of much younger colleagues end up waiting, in a makeshift tent, for the arrival of King Abdullah. I won’t spoil the fun by revealing too much of what happens, suffice to say that the whole project takes on mirage-like qualities. Alan is left with a lot of time to reassess his relationship with his daughter, his ex-wife and his fear of growing old and losing, just like America, the edge.

This book is a perfect beach read, light and funny but with astute observations about life, the world we live in and relationships, such as this little gem from one of Alan’s many unsent letters to his daughter:

‘Kit, you know the key to relating to your parents now? It’s mercy. Children, when they become teenagers and then young adults, grow unforgiving. Anything but perfection is pathos. Children are judgemental on an Old Testament level. All errors are unforgivable, as if a contract of perfection has been broken. But what if one’s parents are granted the same mercy, the same empathy as other humans? Children need more Jesus in them.’

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers is published by Penguin Books, 312 pages.

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