Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The What

Dave Eggers is one of my favorite authors. His book A Heart Breaking Work Of Staggering Genius is simply incredible. He recently released (2006) his most recent book, What is the What. It is about a Sudanese refugee named Valentino Achak Deng. The book is a novel that retells Valentino's story from his youth in his home village of Marial Bai to his resettlement in the United States. The story is told from the perspective of Valentino retelling the stories in America to various people who for the most part are not really listening (sometimes even robbing him). Eggers is a brilliant writer and this is a story that must be heard, thus it is a captivating read.

For the most part Valentino's story is tragic. When his country is forced into a civil war, which Valentino knows nothing about, his whole life is violently and permanently changed. A little boy is estranged from his family and everything he knows. He is forced to walk hundreds of miles avoiding lions, raiders, bandits, and Sudanese government soldiers only to arrive at one less-than-ideal refugee camp after another where he and hundreds of other "Lost Boys" are taken advantage of and poorly cared for. Valentino struggles to find meaning in the death surrounding him while holding to his (catholic) faith. He struggles to be Sudanese in a changing country torn by civil war while living outside Sudan most of his life (refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and then resettling in the US). He struggles to be the future of Sudan when the only Sudan he has ever known will never be the same.

The title of the book, What is the What, comes from a Sudanese creation myth, which his father retells in the book. In the myth when god creates the first man (a Sudanese man) he asks him if he wants to keep the cattle which sustains life in southern Sudan, or if he would rather have the What. He is not told what the What is. The Sudanese man chooses cattle without ever knowing what the What is. Throughout the book the subject of the What resurfaces. The answer is never explicitly given, but by the end it becomes clear. What is the What? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out. All proceeds go to funding Valentino's college education and rebuilding his home village, Marial Bai, in southern Sudan.

Check out Valentino's website:

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