Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Alan Clay needs to resurrect his career so that he can pay off some unsavory loans and finish putting his daughter through college.  He hopes he can do that as a member of a team that is pitching IT services to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for a splashy new city—King Abdullah Economic City or KAEC.  Jet-lagged and unable to sleep when he arrives, he misses the shuttle to the site and employs young Yousef in a beat-up Chevy Caprice to drive him there.  Yousef starts diminishing Alan’s expectations by scoffing at the idea of KAEC, which he seriously doubts will ever be completed and reporting that the king is in Yemen.  Alan finds his team in an insufferably hot tent without wifi or food, preparing for a holographic presentation that apparently has no audience.  Day after day, the waiting for the king continues, and Alan soon joins Yousef in thinking that KAEC is a sham.  Meanwhile, Alan raggedly lances a growth on his back, gets drunk on moonshine, attends a Danish embassy party where everyone dives into the pool to retrieve black-market pills, and goes wolf hunting in the country with Yousef.  Basically, Alan is a man adrift making one last ditch effort to set everything in his life back on track but is thwarted by a foreign culture that has no respect for his time and whose denizens flagrantly disregard the prohibitions of an oppressive government.  In some ways this book was a breath of fresh (desert) air, since it’s so different from anything I’ve read lately.  The waiting game could have been interminably demoralizing and uneventful, but Alan’s musings and escapades make this book anything but dull.  Alan’s musings include family memories and rehashes of his failed business ventures, which do not bode well for the current one.  In fact, Alan himself is not exactly punctual, causing me to fear that he may miss his audience with the king if and when the king finally puts in an appearance at his eponymous city.  This not knowing is what provides suspense, but Alan’s adventures provide ample entertainment and food for thought along the way.

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