“A Hologram for the King” by Dave Eggers (2012) – 312 pages
This book is just what the world needed, a humorous satirical novel about Americans doing business in Saudi Arabia. Our man Alan Clay learned the secrets of selling products on his first job working for Fuller Brush Company using the four prime motivators to get people to buy things.
Money! Romance! Self-Preservation! Recognition!
Later he had a good career as a sales executive for Schwinn Bicycle Company, a fine old American business, but then the company decided to move their main factory down South to avoid paying union wages. That was not a success as the workers had never built bicycles before and besides they were soon underpriced by Chinese factories. Then Schwinn moved their bicycle production to China, but once the Chinese team learned to make bicycles, what did they need Schwinn for?
“More efficient without unions, cut ‘em out. More efficient without American workers, period, cut ‘em out. Why didn’t I see it coming. More efficient without me too.”
So now Alan Clay is 54, almost broke, divorced, and just hanging on in the business world using those old sales techniques that got him started. Most of the actual things get made in China, while we’re making websites and holograms. So now he’s over in Saudi Arabia selling a holographic program to King Abdullah who is jetting all over the world, while Alan and his team are set up in a tent in the nearly deserted new town of ‘King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC)’ waiting for the King so they can put on their demonstration.
Besides being a business satire, “A Hologram for the King” is a buddy story as Alan Clay becomes great friends with his driver Yousef. Yousef has woman problems. His ex-wife is texting him, and Yousef thinks her new wealthy jealous husband is trying to kill him. As they drive around Alan tells Yousef these old dirty jokes he’d heard during his long sales career. That’s a quality I like about Dave Eggers’ writing; he throws in things to make this novel fun. Saudis are just like us except quite a few of them have a lot more money.
This novel reads very quickly and it is a light fun story that does make its points about our modern world of business. Novels about the world of business are quite rare, and “A Hologram for the King” is probably the best business novel I’ve read since “Something Happened” by Joseph Heller or “Babbitt” by Sinclair Lewis.