Rosa's Reviews > What Is the What

What Is the What by Dave Eggers
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Aug 23, 2008

it was ok
Read in August, 2008

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 very monotonous... which, again, seems like a horrendous thing to say. The guy was forced to live in a refugee camp for ten years, so monotony was what defined his life for a very long time. I can't figure out if it was the actual events that I found boring (which would make me a soulless ghoul for sure), or if it was the narration. Looking at other reviews, it does seem that some other readers struggled to finish this book as well. I find discussing the book more interesting than the actual reading of it, namely, debating about Eggers's decision to write the book as a work of fiction despite the fact that the protagonist is a living person. Eggers said in numerous interviews that he initially started writing this as a work of nonfiction, but his own voice kept getting in the way, and it was only after deciding to write it as fiction that he felt sufficiently freed up to let Valentino Achek Deng's voice shine through (whuh?). But some reviewer who clearly has an axe to grind with Dave Eggers (how can anybody be pissed at Dave Eggers, by the way? It'd be like hating Wally Cleaver) cited a paragraph from this book and compared it alongside a paragraph from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and there were undeniable similarities - I say "some reviewer" because I no longer have any recollection, but I seem to remember it being a "real" reviewer writing for a "real" publication... I would Google it, but I need to shower for the first time in days (I couldn't before now because I had to finish this book - I swear, it was frickin' arduous)... anyway, debates about the author's decisions aside, I have to pitch in my lot with all the people who were less than over the moon about this book. Although I will say that those people seem inordinately, illogically pissed at Dave Eggers himself, and my theory is that they're overcompensating in an attempt to alleviate their guilt because in the end, if you don't like this book, you're a bastard. By extension, if you don't read this book, you're a bastard. So there! Welcome to the club!
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Sharon AMEN!! I agree with you 100%!


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