What is the What
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What is the What

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  48,871 ratings  ·  5,860 reviews
Stated First Vintage Books Edition - October 2007. Feels like a new unread (or gently read) copy. Clean and unmarked. Mild shelf and edge wear from handling. No crease to spine. Satisfaction guaranteed!
Paperback, 560 pages
Published October 9th 2007 by Vintage (first published October 18th 2006)
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War and Peace by Leo TolstoyThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee1984 by George OrwellDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
I Should Probably Read This Sometime...
372nd out of 1,268 books — 2,860 voters
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra FullerA Long Way Gone by Ishmael BeahWhat is the What by Dave EggersThe Fear by Peter GodwinWhen a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin
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3rd out of 95 books — 29 voters


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Len
Jan 02, 2008 Len rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone in the human race
If you know me at all, you know I read a lot. So I don't take these reviews lightly. Here goes: What is the What is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read!

The story of Valentino Achak Deng, a so-called Lost Boy of the Sudan, is so moving that after reading the book I went to his web site and signed up for information on how I can help the cause. Dave Eggers, who is easily one of my favorite fiction writers, has donated the proceeds of the book to a foundation co-founded by he and...more
Sergei
It takes a certain and rare kind of writer to make a story about civil war, genocide, and a refugee crisis boring and unreadable; that writer, specifically, is Dave Eggers. It's not that I don't understand the purpose that this book serves - just as we import the Third World's raw resources to fuel our own material greed, so must we import their tragedies to break up the monotony of our lives. My question is - can't we get better books to do it?

First of all, the voice is terrible. At points it r...more
Paul
TOO MUCH, AND NOT ENOUGH : A PARADOX

With her open and confident sexuality, she was the constant igniter of everything flammable within us

Hmm, if this Sudanese refugee & now American Valentine Achak Deng can turn a phrase like that, how come he needs Dave Eggars to shape his book and cop the byline? Okay, maybe he can't, maybe those delightful sentences are pure Dave. So what about this:

"I had feared for a long time that secretly Tabitha was well versed in the ways of love and that the momen...more
Rachel
GREAT STORY, NOT-SO-GREAT BOOK!

This took me THREE MONTHS to finish!!! I did read other books in the meantime, but believe me, I wouldn't have dragged my feet on this one if the storytelling hadn't been so TERRIBLY AWFUL!

Examples of STORIES told particularly badly ....
a) The drama teacher Miss Gladys and the Dominics
b) The romance between Achak and Tabitha
c) Life at Kakuma
d) The story of Maria, the girl who called him Sleeper
e) The walk from Pinyudo to Kakuma
f) The play times with Achak and the...more
Stephanie
Now that was a lot of information. Too much.

Valentino Achak Deng is one of the lost boys of the civil war in Sudan. He survived a genocide, walking from Sudan to Ethiopia where boys were getting picked off one by one by lions in the night. Crocodiles, vultures, dysentery, soldiers tying to blow him up, starvation, a car accident, and a robbery in Atlanta after being relocated to the US.

Life has not been easy for Valentino. Yet he somehow keeps going with a positivity that is hard to believe. The...more
Jeff
“Valentino, I just don’t know what God has against you”.

These words were directed at the subject of this novel/biography and are pretty much a motif that runs throughout most of this book.

This is one man’s true story of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. Valentino Achak Deng, at age seven, and thousands of boys just like him, endured all manner of hardship as they fled their homes as civil war (beginning in 1983) devastated their country. Their journey from refugee camp to refugee camp is fraught with...more
Nathaniel
When so much hype and reputation converge on such a complex and sensitive topic only to receive unchecked praise from the American publishing industry and profitable sales, I fear disaster, choir-preaching and the perpetration of harmful stereotypes. Despite my interest in African literature, in African conflicts and in the way that the developed world engages with Africa, I have been avoiding this book since I learned of its existence. A friend of mine who has lived and worked in Sudan vouched...more
Elizabeth
ugh.... I had read Heartbreaking Work and did not enjoy it, but I thought I'd give Eggers another chance. I'm plodding through this book and have been since March. I'm sad about it, because I'm interested by the subject matter. Oh well, lots of people disagree with me, so "you don't have to take MY word for it!"
Rosa
It took me a million years to finish reading this book. Even up to the very end, 30 pages from the end, then 20, then 10, then 5, I kept thinking, "Isn't this over yet?" I keep wondering if not being crazy about this novel makes me a bastard, because not only does the book aim to educate people about the staggering crisis in southern Sudan, but Dave Eggers donated 100% of the proceeds to help build schools, public libraries, etc., in the protagonist's war-torn village. It just struck me as being...more
Miss.
Dave Eggers tells Achack's story much like you would hear it if you had befriended the Sudanese refugee yourself. this book is like a conversation with a good friend. you start where you are. "hello, how are you, i am being robbed at gun point". you move back to the begining. "this is where i am from, the world was dust, we knew it to be Sudan, there was no more". but, to explain the begining, and to get to the end, you often have laughs in the middle. "successful with women". eventually a life...more
Kate
This was the most amazing book I've ever read. There were times I just wanted to put it down, some of the events were just too much to handle and I wondered whether it was worth being brought down to such dark depths. But even through the unbelievably sad and shocking things that happened to Achak, the narration is so incredible and personal. I couldn't stop reading, and I couldn't stop thinking about him. In the past few weeks that I've been reading this, Achak is always on my mind, he's with m...more
Lisa
You know who should read What is the What? Um…everyone. It’s one of those rare books that are really easy to read, really gripping—it will grip you!—but also globally consequential.

What is the What, by Dave Eggers, is a docu-drama-type "novel" based on the real life of Valentino Achak Deng. At the age of seven (maybe eight) he watches his Sudanese village be attacked and destroyed by government-sponsored militia. Not knowing if his family is alive or dead, he's forced to run and ends up trekking...more
Irfon-kim
I finished listening to "What is the What" by Dave Eggers, narrated by Dion Graham, a couple of days ago, but didn't have a chunk of quiet time to write about it until now. It's the somewhat fictionalized biography of Valentino Achak Deng, a young boy in the Sudan at the outbreak of the civil war, through to his adulthood as a refugee in America.

The story is epic in scope, but is told in a very personal, down-to-earth fashion. You're as likely to hear about the title character's first fumbling a...more
Myles
This book is the fictionalized autobiography of real-life Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng, who grew up mostly in a refugee camp in Kenya (where he lived for 10 years!)

Eggers weaves a present tense with the story of Valentino's childhood in Sudan. In the present tense Valentino is getting robbed and beaten in his Atlanta apartment because he trusted the people who came to the door. Finally when he is discovered bleeding on the floor of his apartment by his roommate, he is taken to the hospi...more
Mykle
Does truth matter? Does the difference between fact and fiction matter?

Purportedly there is a guy named (among other names) Valentino Achak Deng, and Dave Eggers wrote what you might take to be a transcribed and well-edited autobiography of the man and his amazing, tortured journey as a child refugee of the Sudanese civil war. It's a spellbinding story that's beautifully written and deeply moving.

Only it's not tue. It's fiction. It's not authored by Deng, it's authored by David Eggers. Or is it...more
Cheryl
"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 the generosity and the challenges that I encountered elsewhere," Valentino Achak Deng writes.

Dave Eggers did such a great job bringing Deng's story to life, that I enjoyed this book even more than I did Egger's memoir. This is a novel that is "hist...more
Alena
In lesser hands than Dave Eggers’, 500+ pages of tragedy, violence and deprivation would have been intolerable reading material. Fortunately for me, Eggars writes this story of the Lost Boys of Sudan with care, courage and even some humor so that I never lost interest or felt it went on too long.

Although it’s classified as fiction, it reads more like a memoir. We learn the personal tragedy of Valentino, a Sudanese boy whose world and family is ripped apart by war. He runs from his village under...more
MJ Nicholls
The absence of the question mark from this book title is a question Lynne Truss and I have been debating for weeks on end. In the book itself the title is a question – i.e. what is the meaning of life? – so one can only assume that Eggers left the question mark off to give the title a symmetry of sorts, or to introduce a shade of the postmodern to what is a direct, linear narrative.

Who knows. It’s not a question on the lips of most folks who read this compelling and exhausting account of Valenti...more
Scott Axsom
On the cosmic scale of noble publishing ventures, “What is the What” must rank near the top. Though billed as a novel, the book is the story of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan by the name of Valentino Achak Deng and, though written by Dave Eggers, all proceeds from the book go to Deng's foundation. Noble.

Deng’s story is a harrowing one. A brief and characteristic example comes after he buries a friend during the long march (spoiler-redacted);
”When I was finished, I told (him) that I was sorry. I
...more
JSou
I can’t finish this. I was going to, just to give it a fair shot, but me being the idiot I am, left my copy on the table where someone’s root beer spilled all over it, making it a soggy, sticky mess. Though horrified at a book being destroyed, I felt almost a sense of relief knowing I wouldn’t have to pick this up again. I will not be buying another copy.

The story is actually very, very good. You’d have to be a demon spawn straight from the Gates of Hell for this story not to affect you; it is h...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
When the civil war between the north and the south of Sudan reaches Achak's far western Dinka village of Marial Bai, he is a child of about seven years old who still spends most of his time with his mother, or playing on the floor of his father's general store. He did sometimes go out with the others boys, including his friends William K and Moses, to watch the cattle, but he is with his mother the day the government helicopters come, killing indiscriminately, which was only the beginning. When...more
Tung
Disclaimer upfront: I thought A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was overrated, and And They Shall Know Our Velocity was atrocious. So overall, not a huge fan of Eggers and don’t think him this leader of contemporary fiction so many others do. What is the What, however, is the best of the 3 Eggers books I’ve read, and it is a fine work. This book is a detailed glimpse at the life of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan – a fictionalized account of the actual life of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudan...more
☮Karen
I’ve read a couple stories of survival recently, and I’m always astonished at the good and the bad that is intrinsic in our fellow human beings. Achak is one of the good guys – exposed to so much death and gore in his early years, struggling with his belief in God (and who wouldn’t given his life?) – and this man is someone we all need to know. This man is loving, kind, endearing, adorable. It was the descriptions of the bad in people, however, that brought me to tears more than once, wondering...more
milkrobot
May 02, 2008 milkrobot rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to milkrobot by: Kat
This book is worth reading but in my opinion it can't be read as a work of art, but to raise awareness of what's happening in Sudan.

I've always wanted to learn more about the war in Sudan, so I'm glad I picked up this book (thanks Kat!), although I wished Eggers provided us with more details about the politics and history of the war - much of these things were told in a way you'd find in first grade history books, accounted by Achuk as a child as he hears from the elders. But then again, maybe...more
Ryan
Sep 13, 2007 Ryan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: white people
du-du-dear reader!

haha, just a little inside joke there! don't worry if you don't understand it, because you probably won't, because it's between me and just one other person (that i know of) and that's why it's inside! and you're on the outside! so suck my dick! hahaha just kidding!

well, as you have already noticed, the title of today's show is "lions and tigers and armed mujadeen militia, OH MY!" and that's because the book we'll be discussing today is david eggers' fiction debut, "WHAT UP?!"...more
Seth Hahne
Apart from a sometimes painfully awkward framing device and a style of writing that is dull enough to actively distance readers from emotionally connecting to the life and pain of one Valentino Achak Deng (a.k.a. Dominic), What Is the What ended up being not half bad. I suppose it was only a third bad.

Or maybe not actually bad. Maybe just one-third Not Great. Which is okay. We can't all be great.

"What is the what?" is a question that Valentino had been asking himself for a long time. Ever since...more
Grayem82
Jul 25, 2007 Grayem82 rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
This book is one of a series that make up the Voice of Witness series - a collection of books intended to give a voice to people whose lives have been plagued by conflict, persecution, exile and other such humanitarian crises. Such noble intentions aside, most people will encounter this book because of the author, Dave Eggers, author of the love-it-or-hate-it novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

The book tells the semi-fictionalised biography of Valentino Achak Deng, a young man who h...more
Snotchocheez
A while back I'd slogged through the simultaneously compelling and and head-scratchingly-moribund epic "Acts of Faith" by Philip Caputo which dealt with the Sudanese Civil War (of the mid-1980s through today) and ensuing humanitarian efforts; while I wasn't terribly impressed by that novel, it did leave me with many questions about the situation in Sudan, many of which were addressed (if not exactly answered) by the far-superior "novel" "What Is the What" by Dave Eggers.

I put quotes around novel...more
Debbie W
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, sus...more
Shelly
This is the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of Sudan's "Lost Boys". I haven't finished it yet, but that's my own fault--the book is great.

OK. It's done. I've finished. It took me awhile to finish this book--and here's why: I started this book in the Spring of '08 after having read three other books w/ similar themes in the Fall of '07. It sounds horrible, I know, but the shock and awe and sadness of this story was no longer new to me, so it didn't pull me in like it should have. There were s...more
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Schumpp, EII Hono...: What is the What 1 1 Apr 29, 2014 08:43AM  
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Noms & Novels: Food in the Book 10 7 Mar 22, 2014 03:37AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please add book cover to What is the What 2 21 Mar 10, 2014 02:03AM  
Did this book make you cry? 31 297 Nov 30, 2013 06:20PM  
Was Tabitha 8 Years Old? 4 23 Nov 17, 2013 12:44PM  
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Dave Eggers is the author of seven previous books, including his most recent, The Circle, a captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism that soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Eggers is the founder and editor of McSweeney's, an independent publishing house based in San Francisco th...more
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“I will not wait to love as best as I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible way to think. It is no way to live, to wait to love.” 399 likes
“But everyone disappears, no matter who loves them.” 242 likes
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