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What Is the What by Dave Eggers

What Is the What

by Dave Eggers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,0381521,142 (4.16)233
A biographical novel traces the story of Valentino Achak Deng, who as a boy was separated from his family when his village in southern Sudan was attacked, and became one of the estimated 17,000 "lost boys of Sudan" before relocating from a Kenyan refugee camp to Atlanta in 2001.

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» See also 233 mentions

English (142)  Dutch (8)  Catalan (2)  All languages (152)
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Amazing. I couldn't put it down. I even missed my stop on the train the other day because I was so engrossed, and I didn't even care. One of the best books I've read in a long time. ( )
  szbuhayar | May 24, 2020 |
A the tail-end of my college experience, the campus craze to "Save Darfur" popularized. The coalitions that came together at my school to speak out against the atrocities committed in Sudan's Darfur region were varied: campus Christian groups and College Republicans as well as Fair Trade boosters and liberals. I found their politics to be abhorrent and irresponsible. In 2006, the US was three years into a war on Iraq which had recently been recast as a humanitarian intervention. On the one hand, the Christians and the Republicans gathered to chant, "Out of Iraq, Into Sudan!" at tiny, ignored rallies. On the other hand, paternalizing liberals begged the campus to save the poor Africans from violence by Raising Awareness (TM). These threads of white supremacy throughout the "Save Darfur" campaigns gave me compassion fatigue. I didn't consciously avoid becoming better informed about refugee struggles in Africa, but I never bothered to try to understand them either. I'm not proud of my reactionary thought pattern. I saw idiots saying dumb shit about things towards with I should be sympathetic and I ignored that towards which I should have been sympathetic.

It is therefore embarrassing that almost all of what I know about the Sudan is from a book written by a white hipster writer who streamlined the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, an actual living Sudanese man who had endured a thousand-mile walk as a child to become an international refugee. I am choosing to believe that everything good I drew from this book came from the recorded sessions he had with the author.

When it seemed like his whole life had lead up to arriving in America to enjoy the fruits of his decades-long struggle for a dignified life, the story of Valentino Achak Deng didn't end. That is what was beautiful about this book. With the goal of going to college, Achak is sidelined by the disappointment from his US benefactors that the Sudanese are not immaculate immigrant archetypes but actual human beings. He is sidelined by poverty and the rat-race that is the attempt to attain middle-class status. And he leads a normal, banal life.

I can't say I would recommend this book to others, but I'm glad I listened to it myself. ( )
  magonistarevolt | Apr 23, 2020 |
Honestly, I wanted to give this three stars for various reasons. Eggers' voice as Valentino is odd. It's simultaneously intellectual and simple, which makes for some awkward passages. At times he is eloquent and insightful and at times he over-simplifies in what seems like an attempt to represent the simplicity of a Sudanese refugee living in America. His own voice is at odds with itself and it's a constant distraction. If this were told in third person, I'm sure I'd give it five stars. That way Eggers would be able to wax poetic as much as he'd like. At times the novel is beautiful but at times it's laborious. Then again, there is a scene with Manute Bol...

I give it four stars though, because the story is so amazing. This novel give a face to something that I assume very few Americans are familiar with. That's right. An extra star just for accomplishing it. High-five! ( )
  CLPowers | Dec 6, 2019 |
gripping...100 pages in I thought: I cannot read this without knowing how it turns out. So I searched YouTube and found this link to short video of Valentino at home with his parents.

I'm intrigued by how a novel might be more truthful than nonfiction. Perhaps a novel is the only way we could read this. It had to be beautiful to bear the pain of it.

The final sentences - speaking directly to me - "How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist." Coming at the conclusion of a novel: that's quite a statement.

Throughout the book, Deng pays such careful attention to others. Do we pay attention to others like that? If we did, what would it cost? You have to be very poor to do that.

Some other points I will mull:
* Faith - what does it mean to believe? What does he believe?
* His reluctance to ask the Kenyan to sponsor him
* Living communally: this is a communal society. What about jealousy? How does it fit in?
* suffering. What does this book say about suffering? ( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
I'd read Eggers first two books back-to-back in the mid-2000s, and I was a rabid fan. For whatever reason, I bought this one when it was released and haven't touched it 'til now. Maybe I was scared of how different it would be than his earlier books?

But I'm glad I finally read it, and I feel silly for not doing so earlier. It's such a good book, and an important one at that.

Do yourself a favor and listen to the audiobook version, too--Dion Graham is an amazing narrator. ( )
  wordsampersand | Dec 6, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dave Eggersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baardman, GerdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deng, Valentino AchakPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graham, DionNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scherpenisse, WimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I have no reason not to answer the door so I answer the door.
Preface: What is the What is the soulful account of my life: from the time I was separated from my family in Marial Bai to the thirteen years I spent in Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps, to my encounter with vibrant Western cultures beginning in Atlanta, to th generosity and the challenges that I encountered elsewhere.
"They can come in different shapes and guises, but always wars come in increments. I am convinced there are steps, and that once these events are set into motion, they are virtually impossible to reverse."
"I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there. I covet your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us. How blessed are we to have each other? I am alive and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words. I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God. I will tell stories to people who listen and to people who don't want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run."
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Average: (4.16)
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5 503

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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