A Hologram for the King, exactly the kind of business bonehead whose natural habitat is the airport hotel bar.
Eggers' novel is like an Office Space on downers. It's better than you'd expect a story about business consulting or sales to be, but it still doesn't exactly "meet its fourth quarter projections."
Alan Clay, a former executive at Schwinn, who has failed trying to start his own bicycle business, is now working as a consultant to try to pay his debts and make ends meet. Alan parlays a (tenuous) relationship with King Abdullah of Saudia Arabia's nephew to convince an IT company to send him and a team of young go-getters to the Kingdom to pitch IT for King Abdullah's newest pet project — a city rising from the desert called King Abdullah Economic City. (This is a real thing. You can read about it here.)
But it soon becomes clear that business in Saudi Arabia isn't conducted as it is here in the U.S., and Alan has to wait several weeks for the King (lots of other reviewers have compared this aspect of the story to Beckett's Waiting for Godot, if that helps), passing the time by drinking by himself in his hotel room, having a tryst with a Danish woman, hunting wolves (what?!), and worrying about the lump on his neck he's sure is cancer.
Along the way, we get several little anecdotes about China taking over the world — and how China's less-than-ethical business practices is pushing it past we stalwart Americans. Yes, doing business in Saudia Arabia is infinitely frustrating, but is it better or worse than the business environment in America, where a job you've been at for 30 years can be outsourced on a whim?
Eggers writes in the same sparse, unadorned prose he used in Zeitoun. In Zeitoun, the "Hemingway impression" worked really well to chronicle that emotionally charged issue without overt editorializing. The story stood for itself. With this novel, however, while the issue of outsourcing is equally urgent to many Americans (and the novel itself is a sort of allegory or parable or something else where the story isn't the whole story), it doesn't quite have the same emotional punch as racism and racial profiling. So the writing (and, hence, the story) just feels flat, and fairly uninteresting — just like our protagonist Alan (who, even when he tries to do interesting things, doesn't even seem like he's that interested).
So, while I've loved everything else I've ever read of Eggers', this I wasn't completely a fan of — but the uniqueness of the story (who would've thought to tell a story about a middle aged white guy trying to sell IT in Saudia Arabia?!) and the side anecdotes nearly save the novel, but not quite. Finally, it's worth noting that this is one of the more attractive hard cover novels I've ever owned — it's worth buying, just as a collectors item. Rating: 3 stars.