What Is the What : The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng

What Is the What : The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng

4.4 174
by Dave Eggers
     
 

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A gripping, best-selling narrative based on one refugee's story of escape from war-torn Sudan.

In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he's driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of

Overview

A gripping, best-selling narrative based on one refugee's story of escape from war-torn Sudan.

In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he's driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia. Valentino's travels bring him in contact with government soldiers, janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation-and unexpected romances. In this audiobook, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenge one man faces in a world collapsing around him.

Editorial Reviews

Francine Prose
Reading What Is the What does indeed make it impossible to pretend that Valentino Achak Deng and the other Lost Boys and all the men and women and children who have suffered, and continue to suffer, fates like his do not exist. Dave Eggers has made the outlines of the tragedy in East Africa � so vague to so many Americans � not only sharp and clear but indelible. An eloquent testimony to the power of storytelling, What Is the What is an extraordinary work of witness, and of art.
— The New York Times
Gary Krist
God has a problem with me," complains Valentino Achak Deng, the subject of Dave Eggers's extraordinary new novel, What Is the What. Coming from almost any other person on the planet, this lament would appear hopelessly self-pitying. But coming from Valentino, a Sudanese refugee, it sounds almost like an understatement. At a time when the field of autobiography seems dominated by hyperbolic accounts of what might be called dramas of privilege (substance abuse, eating disorders, unloving parents, etc.), What Is the What is a story of real global catastrophe—a work of such simple power, straightforward emotion and genuine gravitas that it reminds us how memoirs can transcend the personal to illuminate large, public tragedies as well.

The book does this despite being, strictly speaking, a novel. Valentino, who survived almost 15 years of civil war and refugee-camp exile before coming to the United States in 2001, in fact does exist, but the book that purports to be his autobiography is actually a fictional recreation by Eggers. No secret is made of the fact that some of the characters in the book are composites, some episodes are invented, and much of the storyline has been reordered and reshaped for narrative effect. The result, however, is a document that—unlike so many "real" autobiographies—exudes authenticity.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780241142578
Publisher:
Gardners Books
Publication date:
05/24/2007

Meet the Author

Dave Eggers grew up close to Chicago and attended the University of Illinois. He is the author of the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity! and the story collection How We Are Hungry. In 1998, he founded McSweeney's, an independent book-publishing house in San Francisco.

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What Is the What 4.4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 174 reviews.
El_Guanaco More than 1 year ago
Living in Salt Lake City, one of the cities chosen by the U.N. for relocation of the displaced Sudanese refugees, I've had the chance to forge friendships with some of the so-called "Lost Boys" of Sudan. Almost without exception they're hardworking, intelligent, kind, and fun-loving guys. In fact, most of them know Achak Deng (the man the book is based on) and lived much of what he lived. The story of Achak Deng in and of itself is captivating and moving but Eggers deftly crafted the story and the dialogue to vividly bring him to life. This is one of my favorite books and has become a favorite to most of those I've referred it to. I highly recommend it to all!
KleinM More than 1 year ago
What Is The What by Dave Eggers is the thrilling, remarkable memoir of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with other thousands of children, also known as the famous Lost Boys, faces the reality of growing up with no home to return to. When forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven, Achak and the other Lost Boys encounter man-eating lions, countless days and nights without food, and the bombing blood-bath attacks from the Arab militia. Fleeing across three countries to reach the safety refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, Achak finally finds freedom when he is chosen to live in America. Little does he know that in the United States, he will face occurrences even more difficult than his life back in Sudan, encountering a robbery in his Atlanta apartment, being held captive and beaten. I absolutely enjoyed this extraordinary novel, which brought tears to my eyes, along with countless smiles and laughter. It kept me on my toes with it's suspense in action and drama. This book will take you you to life in this third-world country, and what it feels like to watch numerous innocent villages burned to the ground.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Working in Africa for years, I am exposed to many heartening stories. Yet this one is done so smoothly and thoroughly to allow us to feel connected and learn more about the realities of refugee existence, war, transitioning to a new country like America, and then ultimately giving back to the Sudanese village that truly has needs. I appreciate the story told to the various persons Achak meets in his daily encounters in life in America. As so many immigrants and refugees do, especially a dark tall Sudanese man, they get asked so many questions about their lives. It was easy to picture him at the health centre chatting about his incredible history in the most simple of terms to a woman on her way to her seemingly meaningless challenges in comparison - to lose weight, get one more mile in, lift an extra five pounds, etc. She could never understand in a two-minute chat, unless she reads the book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'What is the What?', David Egger's latest memoir/novel, trancends both genres-- creating something new. It's not exactly a novel, becuase it isn't fiction-- the Sudan is a real place, and 'the What' really happened there to a boy there named Valentino Achak Deng. But it isn't a memoir either because Deng didn't write it, and the author admits to creating composite characters and generally smoothing the narrative. To appreciate the tragedy of this story, it must be a memoir. I recently read 'Beasts of No Nation' and one of my problems with that story is that while it depicted a similar real tragedy: there was no real individual behind the story. The memorative quality of 'the What' makes the story more believable and the tragedy greater. But make no mistake: 'What is the What' has all appeal of a novel, and a great one. Merely writing down facts as they happened, even tragic facts like the ones here, could not build a story with the weight and power that the What has. Eggers has shown this skill of blending truth into a novel before, in 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius', and his skills have, if anything, grown since that book. This book is better than AHWOSG on many levels. Time and practice seem to have smoothed and reinfoced Eggers' prose: the writing here is not as clever but it is wiser. Also, there are symbolic levels in 'The What' not present in AHWOSG. (IE Does a Bicycle= the what? &/ the presence of Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). They say that truth is better then fiction, and also that winners write the history books. To these proverbs I would add one more: Sincerity is better than Truth. It is the blank sincerity of Eggers' writing that makes Valentino Achak Deng's story come alive-- no matter which parts were exagerated or smoothed. Deng's story is certainly a history of loss and losing, and so the old adage would say that he should be left out of the history books. But Eggers's sincere writing gives Deng the pen and the pages of a novel so good it may valued as history.
Arlene54 More than 1 year ago
We all know there is suffering, injustice and poverty around the world. Nevertheless, we are all so involved in our own worlds, our routines, etc., that we seem to forget. By reading this book, you "remember" and make up your mind to stay away from the indiference and the voluntary blindness you have lived in before. This is a book based on a true story. All the characters presented also become very real to us. The author's writing style is very direct and all the above mentioned elements keep us turning the pages without stop until the book is finished and then we just sit down and reflect about it. I highly recommed it to anyone interested in what is going on with our world.
SOPHIAnNICKSMOM More than 1 year ago
What a powerful, inspiring, and very moving story of one boy's journey of unimaginable tribulations. Thank you Mr. Achak Deng for sharing your story with the world. Thank you for surviving and making a positive difference!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was drawn into the story from the beginning. I learned a lot about the situation in the Sudan and with the refugees. But I did not find it overwhelming (in a negative way). I believe the author keeps it balanced so as not to draw you down too far.
Carlacp More than 1 year ago
The horror of what continues to happen in Sudan is brought to real life in this book. The killings in Darfur, the escape as refugees to Ethiopia and Kenya, their lives in the camps and the opportunity for a few to create new lives in the U.S. are written for you to experience what they went through. This is a disturbing read in the story it tells but it is well written as it alternates between the past and present life of the main character. I recommend it to anyone interested in world events, however, you will wonder if this is a repeat of the holocaust and why aren't we doing more to stop the genocide and violence?
Paisly More than 1 year ago
Just the fact that this book is a personal account of one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan makes it an eye opening experience. This is a book that everyone should read. It will educate you on the events going on in the Sudan and it will break your heart to read of the travesties that have occured. Reading this story will give you an empathy for people you never knew you had and it will change your life for the better. This story is sad, happy, humorous, and devastating. Read this book today! You won't regret it.
duguay More than 1 year ago
This book gives the reader insight into the lives of the Lost Boys. It is told in first person by one of the Lost Boys. And, although it holds your interest easily for the first half or so of the book, it begins to bog down. And, while I'm sure that's exactly how the Lost Boys felt about their journey as well, as a reader I lose interest. Plodding on at that point, I begin to wonder how this book will end. My suspicion was right.
mflaherty More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I loved Eggers's memoir and wanted to read more of his work. I wasn't disappointed. He is a master storyteller, bringing to light the atrocious reality of Sudanese refugees with poise and in a unique, believable voice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am in my mid-fifties and an avid reader. I read all matter of subjects in both fiction and non-fiction. When I read to the last sentace of this book I felt privileged to have the oportunity to have read this story. I am deeply effected by the humanity and courage told. I will never again have anything but admiration for the southern Sudan people, or any other immagrant fleeing a war torn country. You wont hear me whinning again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The best book I have read this year! This incredible story of how a Sudanese 'lost boy' survived will make you think about the meaning of life. It will also give you insight into the conditions of refugees in Sudan and other African nations, as well as immigrants to this country. It is a story that is at times harrowing, touching and funny. Not to be missed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did a five page book review on this book for school and I really enjoyed this book. Although I do read a lot of books along the same subject line, this was among the best. I would definently recommend it to people who want to learn more about the Lost Boys of Sudan. However there are a lot of downfalls of the book also. So I would say read the book anyways. It was totally worth it to me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I bought this book I was familiar with the author having read one of his other books. So, I knew the writing would be good. Well, this book blew me away with not only the writing, but with the incredible story behind the writing. The story of a real survivor, one of 'the lost boys' of the Sudan civil war, this book is one you will continue to think about and digest for a while. I finished the book two weeks ago and still can't stop dwelling on it. As the reader, you will learn a great deal about African politics, unimaginable suffering, friendship, the common bonds of humanity no matter where in the world you live, and yet the book is gripping and compelling and uplifting to read because of the unusual and creative way in which events are told. The book reads like one of the best fiction novels you've ever read, but yet is based on real people and events. It was difficult for the author and his collaborator to present some of the events as fact, as they were seen and remembered by a young child, and no verification was possible, thus resulting in the label 'fiction.' This does not detract from the book in the least, and you cannot help but be moved by this book. Lest you worry that the book is too depressing or moralistic or political-don't!!! The incredible spirit of the boy and man behind this story is uplifting, and you will thank yourself for having read it. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr Eggars is a brillant writer. (I also loved 'A Heartbreaking Work'.) Although it is a 'sad' story that he tells, this is not at all a depressing read. I was entertained, highlighted so many parts of this beautifully written novel, and enlightened. Before the US goes into other countries, stories like this should be required reading, for at least the 'diplomats'.LOL
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book at an airport in Amsterdam thinking it might be good. I almost finished the whole book on one flight across the Atlantic. It's very hard to connect to the author, a Sudanese man living in America. His story is told frankly and in a semi-humorous way like he's used to talking about seeing children blown up to bits. Horrifying. When finished with the book, I felt more inclined to do something about Human Rights. I hope you will to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many people asked me why I was reading such a 'depressing' book. I did not, however, find this book depressing. The resilience of the human spirit never cease to amaze me. How Valentino found his spirit and humanity through all of the tragedy that befell him is awe-inspiring. I can never complain about anything as painful as his experiences. Is that not what books should do for us--show us that there is very little that we cannot overcome? What a lesson he teaches in this book. Thank you Valentino and Dave Eggers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eggers takes an already incredible story and makes it even better than it already is. This book is a great read that evokes incredible emotions. The trials and tribulations that the Lost Boys faced in Sudan are beautifully illustrated through Eggers amazing grasp of the English language and its usage. All in all, one of the most powerful books I have ever had the pleasure to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read! Especially with what's going on currently in Sudan--a warrant out for the arrest of their president for war crimes! This book looks at the situation in Sudan from a young boy's perspective and his coming of age as he struggles to survive in his own country, refugee camps and then in the US, where he is presumably safe. Great book...hard to put down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
You still feel you are being knocked down time and again with him at the end of the book, but somehow in the last page you find yourself inspired and still wondering how it is possible so much could happen to one person. And I've never had a book grab my attention as quickly as this did, in the first sentence perhaps but I can't remember. But an incredible book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a white, locally educated twenty-something, I am exceedingly grateful for a thoughtful, elegantly written book that sheds light on under-reported and oft misrepresented Northeastern African politics. It makes me eager to learn more of what I obviously do not yet know. As for execution: the portraits painted of the Sudanese are at once heroic in their endurance and beauty and recognizable in their humanity. All in all, I am humbled by and grateful to Achak for unflinchingly sharing his Story with me as well as to Eggers, who served his subject and his readers by writing invisibly--so perfectly undistracting and so damn well as to make us all despair of writing anything ever. (If you appreciate this, I recommend Little Bee by Cleaver as a companion)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago