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What Is the What by Dave Eggers

What Is the What (2006)

by Dave Eggers

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A fictionalized account of Valentino Achak Deng newly arrived to Atlanta, GA from his native Sudan. Achak was part of the great Sudanese refugee movement, aka, "the Lost Boys." The book opens with Achak being mugged and burgled when he naively lets in a woman seeking help. He alternates his ordeals here with his trials in Africa. The two stories ensue and ultimately converge at the end of the book. While heart-breakingly sad at times (death, atrocities, violence) the book manages to end on a upbeat note as Ashak vows to start a new, more self-assured life in a new place.

This is gripping reading and well-crafted. To this reader, Ashak's present-day travails were as awful as his times in Africa. He is treated with a strange combination of charity and neglect (he waits 17 hours in the ER and finally walks home!) His sponsors mean well but don't really equip him for American life. His fellow Sudanese immigrants suffer similar fates: lives of drama and violence. (His story of his 'love' Tabitha is especially moving.) ( )
  mjspear | Sep 22, 2014 |
An excellent read. This is the story of young Valentino Achak Deng, a boy who left Southern Sudan when war broke out in his home town of Mariel Bai. He literally had to run for his life as he watched people all around him being killed by soldiers, eaten by lions or starving from hunger and thirst as he and others made their way on foot to Ethiopia and later were relocated to a refugee camp in Kenya. Although this was a novel, it was told in first person by Dave Eggers and is based on a true story. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Jun 11, 2014 |
lost boys of Sudan ( )
  lindaspangler | Apr 24, 2014 |
The kind of book that confirmed for me that readers (this seems to be an occupational hazard, or at least quirk) have different phases and there are different times that things should be read. I picked this book up in the summer intending to read it and get it out of my life (i.e. off my shelves; they groan with the weight of unread books) and couldn't even begin to find my way into the story. I put it down and only just picked it back up again this week, and I'm already halfway through it.

I'm still leery of Eggers' appropriation/adaptation? of the Lost Boys' story though it does raise the interesting question of who gets to say what, especially when certain voices (like those of well-regarded award-winning and admittedly very talented young authors) might speak louder than others, and are therefore able to speak to a larger audience than perhaps the more authentic voices. Knee-jerk reaction against subtitling the book "The Autobiography..." but for those post-post-modernists out there, well, I can understand the complicating/compromising of What It Means To Use Certain Terms.

But I'm enjoying it, to say the least, even if I find Achak a little more westernized? liberally left-winged? than I can believe. The story, elle va. ( )
  50MinuteMermaid | Nov 14, 2013 |
The worst book I have ever read. What's wrong with everyone? You can have sympathy for refugees and not like the book. If you like this book you obviously have no taste. This assault on the English language and the reader's attention is rated higher than 1984. Go figure. The author is not even African. Ah!! ( )
  SpaceyAcey | Sep 23, 2013 |
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I have no reason not to answer the door so I answer the door.
"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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307385906, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:16 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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