Study Guide

Salem in A Hologram for the King

By Dave Eggers

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Maybe no one defies Alan's narrow expectations about life in Saudi Arabia more than Salem…and that's saying a lot. Alan just doesn't think he'd meet a Bohemian in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert:

Salem looked like someone who wouldn't be out of place in Venice Beach or Amsterdam. His hair was long, streaked with grey, a salt-and-pepper goatee covering his chin, stylish eyeglasses over his large eyes. (XXVI.70.237)

But Salem isn't just a caricature of counter-culture Saudi life. He's also the figure who gives us the deepest insight into what things are really like for young men on the ground in the Kingdom. And it's not a pretty picture. He tells Alan that the lack of opportunity and freedoms for young men, even if they are wealthy, breeds an atmosphere of despair:

He talked about a certain recklessness in the face of a grinding lack of opportunity, about how death was not much feared. About the drag races held deep in the desert, where young wealthy men raced their BMWs and Ferraris and some of them would be hurt or killed and none of it would be widely reported or known. (XXVI.83.239)

Salem seems to have avoided the drag races of despair, partly because he's found his own way to rebel. His "urbanity," his sophisticated look and the lighthearted, poppy music he plays on his guitar proclaim his defiance. There may be no full-on revolution in the Kingdom, but Salem is pushing back on cultural expectations in his own way.

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