the novel “Alif the Unseen” contains a revolutionary litmus test of Western vs. Non-Western Literature: “Is it about old, tired people having sex? Then it’s Western.”
Hologram for the King is certainly Western by this definition. It follows a few weeks in the life of a man left adrift by globalization, a man who yearns for a time when jobs produced physical results. The modern economy isn’t about making things, and that takes a toll on the psyche of those who remember how it used to be.
It’s a novel about generational distance, about the rift between how the young experience the world and how the young and the old experience one another.
It’s a novel about cultural connection, about the ties that bind people from East and West together, and the ties that tear them apart. It’s a novel about not being surprised, and about being confused, and above all, about being an outsider face-to-face with death.
For those like me who HATE when an author writes about a country he’s never been to (or met anyone from), this is NOT that book. The author did spend time in the Kingdom, and he did make a lot of Saudi friends.
And yeah, it’s about tired people having sex. It’s not a new story, but it’s told in a new way. And it’s a damn fine piece of work.