Marguerite Dickinson, January 14, 2010 (view all comments by Marguerite Dickinson)
"At the young age of sixteen this book truly moved me. May people told me I was mature for my age, but nothing could make anyone mature or prepared enough to face a struggle like that of the Lost Boys. What is the What is a truly moving story that swallows you whole and not only transforms your ideas about a troubled Africa, but America as well. What is the What is one of my favorite books of all time, and one I recommend highly to anyone who wants to see life and our role in it in a whole new perspective."
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marybethhernandez, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by marybethhernandez)
The writing is brilliant and the story is compelling. The sheer tragedy of this boy's life and the unbelieveable sense of courage and optimism he showed amazes me. As his story unfolds, it's unimaginable that he could have survived and it's heartbreaking how at each turn things continued to get worse. His survival is a mystery that will never be solved...yet here he is as a young adult doing everything he can to help the world learn from his experience.
What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (Vintage)
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"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 Lee Siegel, The New Republic,
"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)
by Entertainment Weekly,
"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+)"
by Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation,
"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."
by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner,
"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."
"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
by Francine Prose, New York Times Book 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."
by New York Magazine,
"Nothing short of genius."
"What Is the What does what a novel does best...make us understand the deeper truths of another human's experience."
"Eggers proves himself a master of narrative, both for what he has written here and for his choice of subject."
"A moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book."
by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times,
"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..."
New York Times Notable Book
New York Times Bestseller
What Is the What is the epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children — the so-called Lost Boys — was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny, What Is the What is an astonishing novel that illuminates the lives of millions through one extraordinary man.
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