A Hologram for the King

I love physical objects. From stones to flowers, photos to chachkies, I am always slipping something in my pocket, pasting a ferry ticket in my notebook, forming tactile memories.

One of the beauties of Dave Egger’s most recent book is its physicality. It is simply gorgeous and practically asks to be held and read.

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The story of Alan, a somewhat bumbling everyman who suddenly finds himself in Saudi Arabia, is a crisp, clean tale of aging through a life that has somehow come to the place where you find your feet. Unlike other books with the same arc, Eggers does not overly bemoan fate, bad decisions, or unexpected failure, but rather focuses with laser-like precision on the simplicities that build together to construct our complex lives.

Alan’s reflections on his ex-wife, struggling career and life in general are illuminated in attempted letters to his daughter, Kit. It is through these words that Eggers posits some hard-won wisdom in ways that feel anything but paternalistic. Rather they echo as truth.

“The key thing is managed awareness of your role in the world and history. Think too much and you know you are nothing. Think just enough and you know you are small, but important to some. That’s the best you can do.”

Tales of a trip to watch one of the last space shuttle launches, the death of a transcendentalist friend, camping with his dad, are laid out like pieces to a puzzle, as yet to be completed. Eggers draws parallels from Alan’s life to the unfinished dream city of King Abdullah in which Alan spends most of his time: desires to change things that cannot be altered, placing all investment and hope in the middle of a barren desert, seeing beauty where others see devastation.

And overarching it all, how can we build real, physical things ourselves when the world around us seems to have given up on that endeavor all together – just to save a few bucks?

“They drank a bottle and opened another. They were so in love with the world, and disappointed in every aspect of it, that drinking another bottle while they sat at the kitchen table was the most obvious way they could honor it all.”

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