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What Is the What

by

What Is the What Cover

ISBN13: 9781932416640
ISBN10: 1932416641
Condition: Student Owned
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Review-A-Day

"The eerie, slightly sickening quality about What Is the What is that Deng's personhood has been displaced by someone else's style and sensibility — by someone else's story. Deng survived his would-be killers in the Sudan, only to have his identity erased here." Lee Siegel, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)

Synopses & Reviews

Please note that used books may not include additional media (study guides, CDs, DVDs, solutions manuals, etc.) as described in the publisher comments.

Publisher Comments:

What Is the What is an epic novel about the lives of two boys during the Sudanese civil war. For those who think they know about the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, this novel will be an eye-opener. And if you think you know the work of Dave Eggers, this is in many ways a complete departure: it's straightforward and unflinching, and yet full of unexpected humor and adventure amid the madness of war.

Eggers has been working on the book for four years now, deeply entrenched in the community of Sudanese refugees in the U.S., and in 2003 went to southern Sudan with a refugee named Valentino Achak Deng. During that trip, Deng was reunited with the family he hadn't seen in 17 years. What Is the What is a book about the lives of these two boys — one, at seven, too young to know what's happening to his country; the other, at ten, old enough to fight for the rebel army.

Through it all, the two boys persevere through one of the most brutal civil wars the world has ever known, finding themselves in one unbelievable, utterly surreal situation after another. What Is the What is thought-provoking, exciting, and repeatedly heartbreaking.

Review:

"Valentino Achak Deng, real-life hero of this engrossing epic, was a refugee from the Sudanese civil war-the bloodbath before the current Darfur bloodbath-of the 1980s and 90s. In this fictionalized memoir, Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) makes him an icon of globalization. Separated from his family when Arab militia destroy his village, Valentino joins thousands of other 'Lost Boys,' beset by starvation, thirst and man-eating lions on their march to squalid refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, where Valentino pieces together a new life. He eventually reaches America, but finds his quest for safety, community and fulfillment in many ways even more difficult there than in the camps: he recalls, for instance, being robbed, beaten and held captive in his Atlanta apartment. Eggers's limpid prose gives Valentino an unaffected, compelling voice and makes his narrative by turns harrowing, funny, bleak and lyrical. The result is a horrific account of the Sudanese tragedy, but also an emblematic saga of modernity — of the search for home and self in a world of unending upheaval." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"A startling act of literary ventriloquism that...remind[s] us just how eloquently the author can write about loss and mortality and sorrow. A devastating and humane account of one man's survival against terrible odds..." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Review:

"A moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book." Time

Review:

"Though [Eggers] has labeled this account a novel, the book is closely based on the experiences of the real-life Valentino Deng, and it reads — and should be savored — as a powerful, if occasionally didactic, piece of oral history. (Grade: B+)" Entertainment Weekly

Review:

"Eggers proves himself a master of narrative, both for what he has written here and for his choice of subject." People

Review:

"What Is the What does what a novel does best...make us understand the deeper truths of another human's experience." Booklist

Review:

"Nothing short of genius." New York Magazine

Review:

"Dave Eggers has done something remarkable with this book. He has managed to cross many barriers both real and artificial to tell the story of one man's tragedy and triumph in a way that emphasizes his simple humanity above the drama of his terrible situation. It is a book that shows there is no reason why geographical and cultural divides should prevent us from attempting to understand each other as citizens of this world." Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation

Review:

"I cannot recall the last time I was this moved by a novel. What Is the What is that rare book that truly deserves the overused and scarcely warranted moniker of 'sprawling epic.' Told with humor, humanity, and bottomless compassion for his subject, one Valentino Achak Deng, Eggers shows us the hardships, disillusions, and hopes of the long suffering people of southern Sudan. This is the story of one boy's astonishing capacity to endure atrocity after atrocity and yet refuse to abandon decency, kindness, and hope for home and acceptance. It is impossible to read this book and not be humbled, enlightened, transformed. I believe I will never forget Valentino Achak Deng." Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner

Review:

"What Is the What is a novel that possesses the best qualities of a documentary film: the conviction of truthfulness, and the constant reminder of the arbitrariness of fate, for worse and for better. By setting his story of African annihilation and survival as a story of American immigration, Eggers ensures that it belongs to us all, as it must." Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda

Review:

"I have been interacting with the Lost Boys since the late 1980s, from the time they were first displaced in Sudan to their arrival in the United States. I thought I had heard and seen it all. But reading Valentino's story has touched emotions in me I didn't even know I had. Dave Eggers tells the story of Sudan through Valentino's eyes, but he also elucidates the best and worst of our common humanity." John Prendergast, International Crisis Group

Review:

"Eggers's generous spirit and seemingly inexhaustible energy — some of the qualities that made his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, so popular — transform Valentino and the people he met on his journey into characters in a book with the imaginative sweep, the scope and, above all, the emotional power of an epic." Francine Prose, New York Times Book Review

Synopsis:

In a sprawling and epic novel, Dave Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of a young boy, Valentino Achak Deng. What is the What tells the story of Valentino and another boy, both caught in the Sudanese civil war. One, at seven, is too young to know what's happening; the other, at ten, is old enough to fight for the rebel army. The two struggle through the brutal war, enduring the surreal world their country has become. In many ways a complete departure from the author's previous works, this book is a straightforward and unflinching portrayal of the madness of war; yet it is also full of unexpected humor and adventure. What Is the What is heartrending and astonishing, filled with adventure, suspense, tragedy and, finally, triumph.

Synopsis:

In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States.

Synopsis:

In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he's driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia, where he finds safety — for a time. Valentino's travels, truly Biblical in scope, bring him in contact with government soldiers, janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation — and a string of unexpected romances. Ultimately, Valentino finds safety in Kenya and, just after the millennium, is finally resettled in the United States, from where this novel is narrated. In this book, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenge one indomitable man faces in a world collapsing around him.

About the Author

Dave Eggers grew up close to Chicago and attended the University of Illinois. He is the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, and How We Are Hungry. In 1998, he founded McSweeney's, an independent publishing house located in San Francisco that publishes books, a quarterly literary journal, the Believer, and a daily humor website. In 2002, Eggers opened 826 Valencia, a writing lab for young people located in the Mission District of San Francisco, where he teaches writing to high-school students and runs a summer publishing camp; there is now also an 826NYC in Brooklyn. With the help of his workshop students, Eggers edits a collection of fiction, essays, and journalism called The Best American Nonrequired Reading.

His fiction has appeared in Zoetrope, Punk Planet, and the New Yorker. He has recently written introductions to new editions of books by Edward Wallant, John Cheever, and Mark Twain, and is currently working on the biography of Valentino Ashak Deng, a refugee from the Sudan now living in Atlanta. Excerpts from this book have appeared in the Believer. A serial novel about electoral politics recently appeared on Salon. He currently has a weekly short-short-story section in the U.K. Guardian newspaper.

He writes regularly about art and music for magazines, including Frieze, Blind Spot, Parkett, and Spin, and his design work has been featured in many periodicals, including Print and Eye, and annuals, including Area: 100 Graphic Designers (Phaidon, 2003) and Reinventing the Wheel (2002, Princeton Architectural Press). In 2003, his designs for McSweeney's were featured in the National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and in the California Design Biennial.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 12 comments:

JTS1701, October 20, 2013 (view all comments by JTS1701)
A Life's Story

The book What Is The What, by Dave Eggers is a really deep and moving story about a boy named Valentino or also known as Achak. It is deep because of super detailed life accounts of situations of hardship in southern Sudan during its civil war. Dave Eggers wrote this book, but it is the accounts of Valentino Deng.

In today's world of connected communities and mass communication it was hard for me to believe the isolation the people of Sudan had. Also, it was really eye-opening to see the level of primitive living these people lived with. You receive these pieces of information because of the highly detailed accounts of everyday life in the beginning of the book. “My older brothers, Arou, Garang, and Adim, are at the cattle camp on this dream-day; it is a place with great appeal to boys: at cattle camp, the boys are unsupervised, as long as they tend the cattle, they can sleep where they want and do as they please” (36). Valentino shows all of his suffering by the detailed accounts and depictions of scrawny, malnourished children and how they died because of cultural differences and an unstable government.

My personal connection with this book is very limited because I have never been in fear of my life due to where I live and what culture I represent. Also I have never been subjected to genocidal like acts of many cultures in Africa.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
LewJones, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by LewJones)
A wonderful example of a contemporary immigration story. Earlier eras had books like "The Jungle" that chronicled an immigration experience. This book captures the experience of a Sudanese refugee. It is a great story with a strong dose of reality both of the conflicts that would drive someone out of their own country and the problems encountered upon living in a new, foreign land. Books like "A Long Way Gone" also recreate this experience (of a separate group of African refugees), like the violence that is escaped, and the struggles that ensue. I am sure that Achak Deng's experience cannot be generalized to an entire population, as no single person's experence could represent such a diverse population. However, it did allow me a glimpse of a life and struggles so very different from my own. It gave me an appreciation of why someone would choose to live in the US in poverty rather than stay in their own war-torn country.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
Nater, April 8, 2010 (view all comments by Nater)
This a great book. I found the narrative structure to be somewhat jarring, but nonetheless interesting and effective in incorporating the very distinct worlds of the US and Sudan.

The Powell's review is a beast. Clearly, it hits on salient literary and cultural points. Now I'm no literary nut, but whenever I read hyper-critical reviews like this I wonder at what point the critique starts working for its own sake.

I don't see much difference between this "novel" and a biography, and the critic seems to make assumptions about what is factual and what is not, though most readers will never really know. Like any biography, the book requires the reader to have faith in the author to portray a truthful account. This book pushes that envelope by allowing the author's imagination (informed by real accounts, we are told) to take us there.

I guess in the end I wonder the value of such intense critique. It seems to lose the forest of a great story for a few very lofty, intellectual trees that the critic seems intent on climbing. That's a effective way to ruin any good time.
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(4 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781932416640
Author:
Eggers, Dave
Publisher:
McSweeney's
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
History
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Orphans
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
October 25, 2006
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
450
Dimensions:
8.5 x 5.5 in 29.5 oz

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

What Is the What Used Hardcover
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Product details 450 pages McSweeney's Books - English 9781932416640 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Valentino Achak Deng, real-life hero of this engrossing epic, was a refugee from the Sudanese civil war-the bloodbath before the current Darfur bloodbath-of the 1980s and 90s. In this fictionalized memoir, Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) makes him an icon of globalization. Separated from his family when Arab militia destroy his village, Valentino joins thousands of other 'Lost Boys,' beset by starvation, thirst and man-eating lions on their march to squalid refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, where Valentino pieces together a new life. He eventually reaches America, but finds his quest for safety, community and fulfillment in many ways even more difficult there than in the camps: he recalls, for instance, being robbed, beaten and held captive in his Atlanta apartment. Eggers's limpid prose gives Valentino an unaffected, compelling voice and makes his narrative by turns harrowing, funny, bleak and lyrical. The result is a horrific account of the Sudanese tragedy, but also an emblematic saga of modernity — of the search for home and self in a world of unending upheaval." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "The eerie, slightly sickening quality about What Is the What is that Deng's personhood has been displaced by someone else's style and sensibility — by someone else's story. Deng survived his would-be killers in the Sudan, only to have his identity erased here." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "A startling act of literary ventriloquism that...remind[s] us just how eloquently the author can write about loss and mortality and sorrow. A devastating and humane account of one man's survival against terrible odds..."
"Review" by , "A moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book."
"Review" by , "Though [Eggers] has labeled this account a novel, the book is closely based on the experiences of the real-life Valentino Deng, and it reads — and should be savored — as a powerful, if occasionally didactic, piece of oral history. (Grade: B+)"
"Review" by , "Eggers proves himself a master of narrative, both for what he has written here and for his choice of subject."
"Review" by , "What Is the What does what a novel does best...make us understand the deeper truths of another human's experience."
"Review" by , "Nothing short of genius."
"Review" by , "Dave Eggers has done something remarkable with this book. He has managed to cross many barriers both real and artificial to tell the story of one man's tragedy and triumph in a way that emphasizes his simple humanity above the drama of his terrible situation. It is a book that shows there is no reason why geographical and cultural divides should prevent us from attempting to understand each other as citizens of this world."
"Review" by , "I cannot recall the last time I was this moved by a novel. What Is the What is that rare book that truly deserves the overused and scarcely warranted moniker of 'sprawling epic.' Told with humor, humanity, and bottomless compassion for his subject, one Valentino Achak Deng, Eggers shows us the hardships, disillusions, and hopes of the long suffering people of southern Sudan. This is the story of one boy's astonishing capacity to endure atrocity after atrocity and yet refuse to abandon decency, kindness, and hope for home and acceptance. It is impossible to read this book and not be humbled, enlightened, transformed. I believe I will never forget Valentino Achak Deng."
"Review" by , "What Is the What is a novel that possesses the best qualities of a documentary film: the conviction of truthfulness, and the constant reminder of the arbitrariness of fate, for worse and for better. By setting his story of African annihilation and survival as a story of American immigration, Eggers ensures that it belongs to us all, as it must." Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda
"Review" by , "I have been interacting with the Lost Boys since the late 1980s, from the time they were first displaced in Sudan to their arrival in the United States. I thought I had heard and seen it all. But reading Valentino's story has touched emotions in me I didn't even know I had. Dave Eggers tells the story of Sudan through Valentino's eyes, but he also elucidates the best and worst of our common humanity."
"Review" by , "Eggers's generous spirit and seemingly inexhaustible energy — some of the qualities that made his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, so popular — transform Valentino and the people he met on his journey into characters in a book with the imaginative sweep, the scope and, above all, the emotional power of an epic."
"Synopsis" by , In a sprawling and epic novel, Dave Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of a young boy, Valentino Achak Deng. What is the What tells the story of Valentino and another boy, both caught in the Sudanese civil war. One, at seven, is too young to know what's happening; the other, at ten, is old enough to fight for the rebel army. The two struggle through the brutal war, enduring the surreal world their country has become. In many ways a complete departure from the author's previous works, this book is a straightforward and unflinching portrayal of the madness of war; yet it is also full of unexpected humor and adventure. What Is the What is heartrending and astonishing, filled with adventure, suspense, tragedy and, finally, triumph.
"Synopsis" by , In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States.
"Synopsis" by ,
In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he's driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia, where he finds safety — for a time. Valentino's travels, truly Biblical in scope, bring him in contact with government soldiers, janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation — and a string of unexpected romances. Ultimately, Valentino finds safety in Kenya and, just after the millennium, is finally resettled in the United States, from where this novel is narrated. In this book, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenge one indomitable man faces in a world collapsing around him.

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