mmansson, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by mmansson)
I am nominating this book for the Puddly because of all of the books I read in the last decade, this book has really stuck with me. This was a book club book and I was very reluctant to read it because I found A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius about 10% great writing and 90% bloviation.
However, my reluctance was quickly replaced with admiration for this book. Egger relates Valentino Achak Deng's story as he manages to maintain optimism and faith in the face of tragedy and challenges.
alexahkol, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by alexahkol)
Dave Eggers is an enlightening storyteller who crafts the stories of real-life heroes into unbelievably good novels. In 'What Is the What, the Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng,' Eggers gives voice to Valentino, a young man who survives the atrocities of civil war in Sudan to escape to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, and finally, to Atlanta, GA.
Written in first person, Eggers becomes Valentino as a 12 year-old boy and narrates his 13-year journey into manhood, toward safety and purpose.
'What Is the What' is one of the most thought-provoking stories I've read this decade. At a book signing event a few years ago, Eggers wrote in my copy of the novel, "Your attention means the world."
However, without conscientious writers like Eggers, the world would easily overlook the travesties of his subjects and collaborators. Thank you, Mr. Eggers, for opening my eyes.
grevillea, September 29, 2008 (view all comments by grevillea)
This book is incredibly good. As well as being a compelling story (it follows the life of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan), it is incredibly well written. I read it over a weekend; I didn't get anything else done - I simply couldn't put this book down!
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venusinfauxfurz, April 23, 2007 (view all comments by venusinfauxfurz)
This is not your typical Eggers novel. It's more human than A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius and more profound than You Shall Know Our Velocity. Yes, Deng's story has been fictionalized, but it's also been given the potential to reach thousands of readers and alert them to the reality of his life.
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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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