I am a massive fan of Dave Eggers. In fact I am in awe of him as a writer, a publisher, a philanthropist, whatever he seems to put his mind to. I first came across Dave Eggers after reading What Is The What, a fictionalized account of the life of Valentino Achak Deng who as a small boy is separated from his family by the brutal civil war in Southern Sudan. Before reading that book I was on vaguely aware of Sudan and then only in relation to the civil war in Darfur. Eggers’ book opened my eyes to the long history of conflict and famine in Sudan and the plight of the ‘lost boys’. As much as I loved The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini I think this book is even more powerful and important.
From then on I was a Dave Eggers devotee. Zeitoun was a powerful and confronting story about one man during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and was an indictment of not only America’s reaction to the devastation wrought on New Orleans but also its treatment of Muslims post-September 11 and the freedoms that have been lost in the name of fighting terrorism. And of course I loved Eggers’ adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are for a more grown up audience, Wild Things, especially the furry cover edition!
Dave Eggers’ new book came by total surprise. Usually we get notice of books’ release dates 3-6 months in advance but with A Hologram For The King there was only about three weeks notice. It was actually quite a unique experience being caught by surprise by a book’s release and also waiting for it to come out to get my hands on it. I am usually very spoilt reading books way ahead of their release. There was also the unique experience of having no knowledge about or buzz around the book.
Although I doubt there is a simple way to some up A Hologram For The King the blurb on the back doesn’t give much away. The novel (yes this one is a novel) centres on an American businessman in his 50s who is in Saudi Arabia trying to pitch for a lucrative IT contract for a new city being built by the King of Saudi Arabia. The American businessman needs this contract to stave off bankruptcy and stop his life spiralling out of control. While he waits for an audience with The King he reflects on his life and what has brought him to this critical juncture.
The best way I can think of to describe this book is that it is an allegory about the world we live in. The genius of Eggers is that it works on the surface as a straight novel but when you start to think about some of the depths it opens up you are just in awe. On one level the book looks at the world of business in the West and how it lost its way primarily by its own making. On another the book looks at the divide between East and West, the Arab World and America and how lack of understanding doesn’t mean irreconcilable difference. And then how all these things are built on perceptions and assumptions that are too easily and readily believed.
Not only has Eggers written a deceptively simple yet thought provoking novel of our times but he has also managed to publish it in an exquisite hardcover edition. There is a paperback edition but it is definitely worth the few extra bucks for the hardcover, especially if you already know how brilliant Dave Eggers is.