Study Guide

Yousef in A Hologram for the King

By Dave Eggers

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A Not-So-Angry Young Man

Alan's new BFF, Yousef, is the kind of sidekick every hero wants: personable, tolerant of stupid jokes, not too angsty. He's basically a cuter, worldlier version of Sam Gamgee or a happier, less hypochondriac version of Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

It's not that Yousef doesn't have his share of problems: after all, he's got an ex-wife with a jealous new husband who wants to kill him. He's also living a life that seems to afford him no opportunity for change—and while his dad is rich, he's also highly unpleasant.

Still, Yousef isn't feeling quite as trapped as his friend Salem. While he'd like to have more opportunities for a purpose-filled life (join the club, Yousef), he isn't horribly worried about social justice or equality. He benefits from his father's immense wealth and has enough pride in his roots that he's able to overlook some of the more unpleasant facts of life.

So while he jokes with Alan about starting a revolution, Yousef doesn't have a fire in his belly for governmental upheaval. And to be honest, his lack of motivation is kind of depressing:

Yousef had been lighthearted during his questions, but there was something very serious and sad under his smile, and Alan knew what it was. It was the knowledge that there would be no fighting, and there would be no struggle, no stand taken, and that the two of them, because they were not lacking materially, because despite injustices in their countries they were the recipients of preposterous bounty, would likely do nothing. (XXVIII.130.276)

In this way, Yousef and Alan are like bros. Despite the appearance of desperation in the two men, the truth is that both could be worse off. They're not so far down and out that they're woke to any gaps in equality or major injustices perpetrated by their governments.

Yousef and Alan are willing to bear up under current conditions in the hope that, one day, they can ride a wave to the top—if they're very good.

Who's the Adult Here?

None of this is to say that Yousef isn't genuinely discontented or truly dispirited by his position in society. Remember that although Yousef has a wealthy family and a college education (or part of one), he's basically an Uber driver with a really beat-up car. And there's no sense that he'll ever do more.

Salem comments on the depressing lack of opportunity for men like them in their country:

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)

Despite all of this, Yousef's still the most stable person Alan knows. Maybe this is because the uncertainties of Yousef's life are of a whole other and more tangible order than Alan's. While Alan broods about aging and lacking relevance in a fast-paced world, Yousef has to wonder if he's going to be murdered by a jealous man—or if there's any point in trying to create a life for himself inside his society.

And Yousef has some solid adult attributes that Alan lacks: common sense and clear-sightedness. When Alan gushes on about how great KAEC is, Yousef breaks down the reality of the situation in Saudi Arabia:

"It might have happened at one time, but there's no more money. Emaar's a bust. They're going broke in Dubai. Everything was overvalued and now they're busted. They owe money all over the planet, and now KAEC's dead. Everything's dead. You'll see." (V.31.39)

This is stuff that Alan should know, but doesn't—a lack of realistic vision that keeps on dooming everything he attempts. Most of the time, it works out between the two friends. Yousef's grip on reality seems to be a good counterpoint for Alan's head-in-the-clouds behavior.


Reality Check

Yousef's down-to-earth common sense eventually does run up against Alan's social awkwardness and inability to do things the way that he should. It begins when Yousef invites Alan deeper into his life, when he retreats to his father's house. Things go well until Alan decides to joke inappropriately with a neighbor—and then nearly shoot a shepherd boy in the head.

Even Yousef—cool-as-a-cucumber Yousef—doesn't take that kindly.

Like the other villagers, Yousef can't see what's going on in Alan's head. He only sees an American shooting at a Saudi boy. Eggers describes the moment as a breach of trust between the two men, something Alan senses as he returns to Jeddah in disgrace:

He closed his eyes under the white sun and saw only the face of the boy, the face of the men, Yousef's placid expression when Alan turned away from the valley and saw them all. An expression that spoke of suspicions confirmed. (XXVIII.161.280)

In this friendship, it's Alan who suffers the most from this breakup of their bromance. He misses Yousef's sanity and stability. He misses that someone found him interesting and worthwhile. In the end, it's Yousef who calls the shots: he needs time to "remember what he liked" about Alan in the first place.

We assume that he does, in time, because Yousef is the adult in the relationship.

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