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What Is the What

by Dave Eggers

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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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An excellent companion read to Americah. This story of a Sudanese Lost Boy will give the reader a much needed understanding of refugee and immigrant experience. A life changing awakening to the needless suffering on this planet. ( )
  jemisonreads | Jan 22, 2024 |
Stunning 1st person account of the war in southern Sudan and personal aftermath. Inexplicably listed as 'fiction,' probably due to Eggers' whimsy. ( )
  aleshh | Jan 12, 2024 |
Everyone should read this book. That is all. ( )
  LibrarianDest | Jan 3, 2024 |
Here's what I wrote in 2008 about this read: "Memorable, haunting, educational. Fictionalized account of one of the "lost boys of Sudan" illuminates the fate of this country still in civil wars (Darfar continues in crisis today), and of it citizens. They have it very bad, even though some have survived and "thrived" to the point of being relocated to other countries (U.S. in the case our main character Valentino Achak Deng). My heavens, how good we have it in the developed world; how wretched man can be to man." ( )
  MGADMJK | Jul 30, 2023 |
'What is the What' is essentially a novelistic autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the thousands of Sudan's 'Lost Boys'--small children who walked the breadth of Sudan alone to escape a vicious civil war. Some of the lucky children were eventually rehomed in the West but many mainly boys but some girls spent years living in refugee camps, relying on foreign nationals for all their needs, never knowing if their other family members were alive or dead.

The book opens with Achak undergoing a home invasion by an American black couple in his adopted home of Atlanta, Georgia. The story that follows is a series of mental monologues between Achak, his present oppressors and a hospital receptionist who delays treating him of his injuries because he is uninsured, bit by bit telling them and us, of his ardous journey up to that point and some of the extraordinary people he met along the way.

Some of the minor characters and conversations are fictional, however, the book also reminds us of the incredible resilience of the survivors and that not all refugees are granted asylum whilst giving some background in to a now almost forgotten civil war.

Despite the author describing some really grim events his prose retains a relatively light touch, allowing both humour and sorrow. This isn't and easy read and I had a few minor quibbles. I felt that the editing could have been better as at times it felt a little unbalanced nor was I totally sure as to believe some parts of it, even the author admits many of the refugees' tales sound remarkably alike, but overall I found this a fascinating and enlightening piece of writing about a conflict that I was only vaguely aware of. This is my first experience of the author's work but I hope that it won't be my last. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Feb 12, 2023 |
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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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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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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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