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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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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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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bwalice, January 19, 2010 (view all comments by bwalice)
One of my favorite books in recent memory. Dave Eggers brings to life the amazing people who lived through these horrific experiences, and he does it with sensitivity, emotion, and touches of humor and lightness. A must-read for anyone interested in the Lost Boys. Very moving -- very unforgettable.
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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 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..."
"A moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book."
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+)"
"Eggers proves himself a master of narrative, both for what he has written here and for his choice of subject."
"What Is the What does what a novel does best...make us understand the deeper truths of another human's experience."
by New York Magazine,
"Nothing short of genius."
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 John Prendergast, International Crisis Group,
"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."
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 Publishers Group West,
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.
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.
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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