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What Is the What

A book by Dave Eggers

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'What is the What': A Book that will Break you Heart in the Best Way Imaginable

  • Jul 30, 2010
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. It is a story about searching for life. It is a story about keeping one's faith in the face of pure evil.
I read most books within a span of two to three days. However, Egger's book I had no choice but to give myself at least two weeks. This book literally hurtsto read. Every page that I turned, my heart was heavy with sorrow or bright with laughter. Tearstains are left in the margins of the book and in my mind. It brought me to a new level of humility and more prayers were said after reading this book then I could have ever imagined. The recognition of never having to truly suffer or struggle in my life was realized to me in those late hours of reading this book. A heavy feeling of shame and appreciation consumed me. This book caused me to question, caused me to listen, caused me to imagine a life outside of my American Bubble.
Guilt consumed me after reading of Deng being attacked by lions in the night, while trying to escape from the murahaleen and the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army). This book shows life in its truest form; the idea of black and white cannot exist in a grey world. Who can you trust when everyone betrays? Deng repeatedly was confused through out his life of who to trust. The government? The Rebels? The neighboring countries? Who do you trust when the whole world does not know or care if you exist?
This book gives a different perspective on the world. What is America to a child in a Kenyan refugee camp? What is the U.N? What happened in Rwanda? What is Darfur? Deng has a unique perspective of the world that many have not heard. Reading this book is a chance to have a greater understanding of the world in which we live in.
There are so many astounding passages. The 474 pages cannot even begin to describe the life of Deng and the many people who have suffered in Sudan, but it is a start. Deng asks the powerful question: "How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist." Finishing the book, it is truly, truly, impossible.
This book is a true statement of faith. I was left to pray every night for the people suffering in Sudan, as well as others countries. Once you open your eyes to see Deng, it is hard to blink before you miss the millions of others suffering. Deng states: "I will live as a good child of God, and will forgive him each time he claims another of the people I love. I will forgive and attempt to understand his plans for me, and I will not pity myself." 
In the Preface Deng eloquently by Deng he stated, "Even when my hours were darkest, I believed that some day I could share my experiences with readers, so as to prevent the same horrors from repeating themselves. This book is a form of struggle, and it keeps my spirit alive to struggle. To struggle is to strengthen my faith, my hope, and my belief in humanity."
With the warmest sincerity, I suggest to anyone to please pick up a copy of "What is the What" by Dave Eggers. It will truly transform your life and cause you to feel more alive than ever.
'What is the What': A Book that will Break you Heart in the Best Way Imaginable 'What is the What': A Book that will Break you Heart in the Best Way Imaginable 'What is the What': A Book that will Break you Heart in the Best Way Imaginable 'What is the What': A Book that will Break you Heart in the Best Way Imaginable

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More What Is the What reviews
review by . June 17, 2010
  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 …
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
splendid and gripping... illuminating and unexpected. eggers's prose finds new purpose in the heart of the sudanese civil war.
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
powerful, chilling, a rare look into a world that many of us cannot imagine
review by . December 19, 2008
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 …
review by . February 06, 2009
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 …
review by . December 25, 2006
"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 …
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Tawny Burgess ()
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My name is Tawny Burgess and I am what you call a book and film nerd.
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About this book


What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng is a 2006 novel written by Dave Eggers. It is based on the real life story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and member of the Lost Boys of Sudan program.

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.
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Books, Cafe Libri, Fiction, Africa, Sudan, Lost Boys, Valentino Achak Deng, Sudanese, Mcsweeneys, Dave Eggers


ISBN-10: 1932416641
ISBN-13: 978-1932416640
Author: Dave Eggers
Publisher: McSweeney's; 1 edition (October 25, 2006)

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