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Hologram for the King (Eggers)

A Hologram for the King
Dave Eggers, 2012
McSweeney's Publishing
328 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0307947512



Summary
In a rising Saudi Arabian city, far from weary, recession-scarred America, a struggling businessman 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 the face of the global economy’s gale-force winds. This taut, richly layered, and elegiac novel is a powerful evocation of our contemporary moment—and a moving story of how we got here. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—March 12, 1970
Where—Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B.A., University of Illinois
Currently—lives in San Francisco, California


Dave Eggers is the author of five books, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, How We Are Hungry, What Is the What, and A Hologram for the King. He is the editor of McSweeney’s, a quarterly magazine and book-publishing company, and is cofounder of 826 Valencia, a network of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers for young people. His interest in oral history led to his 2004 cofounding of Voice of Witness, a nonprofit series of books that use oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. As a journalist, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Believer. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter. (From the publisher.)

More
Eggers was born in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up in suburban Lake Forest (where he was a high-school classmate of the actor Vince Vaughn), and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He lives in San Francisco and is married to the writer Vendela Vida. In October 2005, Vendela gave birth to a daughter, October Adelaide Eggers Vida.

Eggers's brother Bill is a researcher who has worked for several conservative think tanks, doing research on privatization. His sister, Beth, claimed that Eggers grossly understated her role in raising their brother Toph and made use of her journals in writing A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius without compensating her. She later recanted her claims in a posting on her brother's own website McSweeney's Internet Tendency, referring to the incident as "a really terrible LaToya Jackson moment". On March 1, 2002, the New York Post reported that Beth, then a lawyer in Modesto, California, had committed suicide. Eggers briefly spoke about his sister's death during a 2002 fan interview for McSweeney's.

Eggers was one of three 2008 TED Prize recipients. His TED Prize wish: for community members to personally engage with local public schools.

Eggers began writing as a Salon.com editor and founded Might magazine, while also writing a comic strip called Smarter Feller (originally Swell, then Smart Feller) for SF Weekly. His first book was a memoir (with fictional elements), A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). It focuses on the author's struggle to raise his younger brother in San Francisco following the sudden deaths of their parents. The book quickly became a bestseller and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. The memoir was praised for its originality, idiosyncratic self-referencing, and for several innovative stylistic elements. Early printings of the 2001 trade-paperback edition were published with a lengthy, apologetic postscript entitled "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making."

In 2002, Eggers published his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, a story about a frustrating attempt to give away money to deserving people while haphazardly traveling the globe. An expanded and revised version was released as Sacrament in 2003 and retitled You Shall Know Our Velocity! for its Vintage imprint distribution. He has since published a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry, and three politically-themed serials for Salon.com. In November 2005, Eggers published Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated, compiling the book of interviews with exonerees once sentenced to death. The book was compiled with Lola Vollen, "a physician specializing in the aftermath of large-scale human rights abuses" and "a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley's Institute of International Studies and a practicing clinician." Novelist Scott Turow wrote the introduction to Surviving Justice. Eggers's most recent novel, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (McSweeney's, 2006), was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Eggers is also the editor of the Best American Nonrequired Reading series, an annual anthology of short stories, essays, journalism, satire, and alternative comics.

Eggers is the founder of McSweeney's, an independent publishing house. McSweeney's produces a quarterly literary journal, McSweeney's, first published in 1998; a monthly journal, The Believer, which debuted in 2003 and is edited by wife Vida; and, beginning in 2005, a quarterly DVD magazine, Wholphin. Other works include The Future Dictionary of America, Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, and the "Dr. and Mr. Haggis-On-Whey" children's books of literary nonsense, which Eggers writes with his younger brother. Ahead of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Eggers wrote an essay about the US national team and soccer in the United States for The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, a book published with aid of the journal Granta, that contained essays about each competing team in the tournament.

Eggers currently teaches writing in San Francisco at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit tutoring center and writing school for children that he cofounded in 2002. Eggers has recruited volunteers to operate similar programs in Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, all under the auspices of the nonprofit organization 826 National. In 2006, he appeared at a series of fundraising events, dubbed the Revenge of the Book–Eaters tour, to support these programs. The Chicago show, at the Park West theatre, featured Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Other performers on the tour included Sufjan Stevens, Jon Stewart and David Byrne. In September 2007, the Heinz Foundations awarded Eggers a $250,000 Heinz award given to recognize "extraordinary achievements by individuals". The award will be used to fund some of the 826 Valencia writing centers. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
In Mr. Eggers's telling, the 54-year-old Alan is not just another hapless loser undergoing a midlife crisis. Rather, his sad-funny-dreamlike story unfolds to become an allegory about the frustrations of middle-class America, about the woes unemployed workers and sidelined entrepreneurs have experienced in a newly globalized world.... Thanks to Mr. Eggers's uncommon ability to access his characters' emotions and channel their every mood, we are instantly immersed in Alan's story.... A comic but deeply affecting tale about one man's travails that also provides a bright, digital snapshot of our times.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


A clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad.... Eggers's inhabiting of the terms and tics of a distinctly American consciousness is as remarkable as, in earlier books, his channeling of Sudanese and Syrian sensibilitie.... A Hologram for the King is, among other things, an anguished investigation into how and where American self-confidence got lost and—in the central word another lonely expat uses for Alan—"defeated."
Pico Iyer - New York Times Book Review


A diverting, well-written novel about a middle-aged American dreamer, joined to a critique of how the American dream has been subverted by outsourcing our know-how and manufacturing to third-world nations.
Michael Dirda - Washington Post


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.
Elizabeth Taylor - Chicago Tribune


An extraordinary work of timely and provocative themes.... This novel reminds us that above all, Eggers is a writer of books, and a writer of the highest order.... An outstanding achievement in Eggers's already impressive career, and an essential read.
Carmela Ciuraru - San Francisco Chronicle


Dave Eggers is a prince among men when it comes to writing deeply felt, socially conscious books that meld reportage with fiction. While A Hologram for the King is fiction...it’s a strike against the current state of global economic injustice."
Elissa Schappell - Vanity Fair


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.
Publishers Weekly


A middle-aged man scrapes for his identity in a Saudi Arabian city of the future. This book by McSweeney's founder Eggers (Zeitoun, 2009, etc.) inverts the premise of his fiction debut, 2002's You Shall Know Our Velocity.... Eggers has matured greatly as a novelist since Velocity: Where that novel was gassy and knotted, this one has crisp sentences and a solid structure.... If anything, the novel's flaws seem to be products of too much tightening: An incident involving a death back home feels clipped and some passages are reduced to fable-like simplicity. Even so, Eggers' fiction has evolved in the past decade. This book is firm proof that that social concerns can make for resonant storytelling.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for A Hologram for the King:

1. What do you think of Alan Clay? What kind of man is he? Consider his last name "Clay." Why might Dave Eggers have given him such a name? Is Alan a sympathetic, likable character? Do you feel sorry for him, admire him? Do you find him weak or irritating at times?

2. How would you describe the predicament Alan finds himself in, both at home and in Saudi Arabia? What are the stresses in his life—and in what way might he be a symbolic stand-in for middle-aged, middle-class Americans?

3. What do you think of the conversation Alan has on the plane over to Saudi Arabia? Do you agree with his seatmate—that America has seen its best days pass? Is the American Dream over, with "the dreaming being done" elsewhere—in China, Dubai, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi?

4. The concept of "hollow" pervades this novel, most obviously in the title, which refers to the use of a hologram replacement for human presence. Hanne considers Alan himself "hollow" or defeated. Where else / how else does hollowness show up...and why is the concept so significant? What is Eggers suggesting about Western and Saudi society?

5. What do you think of Saudi Arabian society—talk about the disparities between public values and private action. Were you surprised?

6. Throughout the novel, Alan tries to write to his daughter, but he but never follows through. What is it that he's trying to convey to her?

7. Alan cuts into the growth at the back of his neck. Why? He thinks, at one point, that scars are evidence of living. What does he mean?

8. Why is Alan's relationship with his father so fraught with anger (on his father's part) and disappointment (on Alan's)? Is Ron correct in his assessment of what is happening to the U.S.—they're building our bridges in China, for God's sake!—and his son's role in it? Or is he overwrought and caught up in defeatism?

9. What was Alan's role with regards to the Schwinn bicycle? Did he have a choice other than moving operations over to China? Does any U.S. company have a choice? Or could things be different?

10. SPOILER ALERT: What do you think of the novel's ending, the futility of the wait in the tent and  the fact that the contract went to a Chinese company? What about Alan's decision to remain in Saudi Arabia? Why does he want to stay?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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