Irishcoda's Reviews > What is the What

What is the What by Dave Eggers
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Feb 07, 08

Recommended for: everyone!!!!!
Read in February, 2008

Wow.

In the preface to What Is The What, Valentino Achak Deng says that he told his story to the author, Dave Eggers, over a period of years. Eggers captured Achak's tone and spirit so closely that I kept forgetting that the author was not the man who experienced the horrors of what happened in the Sudan. Some of the passages are fictional out of some necessity and that's why I guess the book can't be classified as a true memoir. Still, it is one of the most chilling and inspiring books I've ever read.

I am one of those people almost completely ignorant of what was going on in the world in the late 1980s and all of the 1990s. My kids were being born and I was busy raising them, working and coping with other unfortunate complications like my first husband's failing health. When I saw Hotel Rwanda I thought, how could I not know about this? This is like what Hitler did.

I feel the same way after reading this book. Achak was a small boy in a poor village in southern Sudan when war and terror arrived in the form of mhraleen, invaders from Khartoum. There was always unease between the Arabs of northern Sudan and the Africans of the south although in Achak's village, they traded freely and were friendly with each other. Achak's village was burned to the ground and he had to run for his life, not knowing if any member of his family survived.

He became one of the "Lost Boys" who walked in a group what became hundreds of refugee children across the Sudan and into Ethiopia first, then Kenya. Along the way, boys died from starvation, exposure and disease. The boy Achak saw other little ones carried off by lions. They were chased and strafed by the Sudanese army. Sanctuary consisted of poor, mean little settlements and it took a long time for Achak to learn what happened to his family and make his way to the United States.

Ironically (although after everything that happens to him I shouldn't have been surprised) the plane taking him to New York was scheduled to depart September 11, 2001. We all know what happened then.

He did make it to Atlanta at last...and after going through all the suffering and misery of his young years, he opens the door one day and his home is invaded. He is beaten and robbed.

That's not even half of it.

If I ever feel too sorry for myself and complain about my woes, I'm going to go back and read this post and remember what this man experienced.

I think everyone should read his story.

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