Beginning with a naively trusting man being robbed and beaten by criminals who were invited in after pleading to use the phone, "What Is The What" grabs you from the get-go, both by the plot and by the matter-of-fact and stark voice of a Sudanese refugee in which the story is told.
Not resembling Egger's other works at all, "What Is The What" is the memoir of Valentino Achak Deng, as told to Eggers in numerous interviews and conversations, and the fact that the story leaves practically no trace of Eggers' own self-conscious and self-aware pretense is a testament to both the incredible elements of the narrative and the author's writing ability.
The novel plots the events leading Deng from a happy childhood in southern Sudan, through a gruesome and bloody civil war, across the country on a many-mile walk to Ethiopia, then down to the refugee camp of Kakuma in Kenya. The main style of narrative is through Deng's flashbacks to his childhood when he was beaten, shot at, and generally went through all types of horror that any ten people in America would never see in their lifetimes. And all of these flashbacks happen while he is being robbed and beaten in his apartment in Atlanta, where these things should not be happening to him any longer.
For all the violence and horror that the book shows, it can get to be a little much sometimes, even to the point where the narrative dragged a bit. Thankfully, there is enough humor injected through Deng's perceptions and observations that most of the time, the story is fresh and addictive. And although it is ultimately a very good read, it did seem to lack resolution.
Dave Eggers wrote the autobiography of Valentino Achack Deng; a sincere and heart-wrenching tale of a young boy from Marial Bai engulfed in the civil war that tore the country of Sudan apart. It is this man's tale of escaping from death, becoming a part of the Lost Boys, living in Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps and journeying to America. It is the story of a boy becoming a man in a rapidly changing world. It is a story of a country losing its culture and future. It is a story about survival. … more
Spoiler Alert: Plot elements were used Every child finds his or her own coming-of-age process in a gradual acculturation with common surroundings. A heavy representation of this process is linked to one’s name, designating the essence and nature of any certain individual. In his novel What is the What, Dave Eggers addresses the Achak’s multiple names to stress his struggle with maturing into a stable identity. Achak starts his life journey … more
What Is The What? is a collaborative effort. Written as though it were an autobiography of a Sudanese refugee named Valentino Achak Deng, What...? is still classified as a fictional novel. As stated in the introduction, Deng told the story of his life to Eggers over the course of a few years. Eggers then wrote the novel based on the real life events. The clasification as fiction could be due in part to the fall-out from "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey. In any case, Eggers weaves the … more
"What Is the What" is Dave Eggers' fictionalized biography of Valentino Achak Deng's Sudanese experience. If most of the events were not true or at least based upon actual experiences, the horrors exposed would be hard to be. As is, they are hard to stomach. So much of today's biographical and autobiographical writing is "Yuppie Angst" (rich, spoiled brats crying about their hangnails). Here we find real suffering. Because of its geographical setting and religious backdrop, "What Is the What" also … more
As a boy, Deng is separated from his family during the Second Sudanese Civil War when the Arab militia, referred to as murahaleen (which is Arabic for traveller), wipes out his Dinka village. He flees on foot with a group of other young boys, (the "Lost Boys"), encountering great danger and terrible hardship along the way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia; they are forced to flee a second time to another refugee camp in Kenya and finally, years later, he moves to the United States. The story is told in parallel to subsequent hardships in the United States.