Sunday, August 3, 2014
What Is The What by Dave Eggers
Published September 2006 by McSweeney's Publishing
Source: I bought this one in paperback and audio
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.
I had this book in paperback and audio because, once again, I forgot I already had the paperback when I bought the audiobook. Which turned out to be a happy mistake; What Is The What was the perfect book to do a combination of reading and listening. The audio narration, by Dion Graham, is one of the best I have ever heard. I had quite a few driveway moments when I just could not make myself stop listening and go inside. As soon as I got inside, I had to pick the book back up and keep reading.
Before I started blogging, I read another story of a boy who's life was irreparably changed by war in his African country, Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone. Beah's story was autobiographical and he was forced to become a boy soldier. Achak Deng was spared that fate but little else when he is forced to flee his village when the government of Sudan attacks his village.
Deng and Eggers spent many years talking about what Deng could recall of his years on the run, in refugee camps and adjusting to life and an immigrant. Then Eggers did what Eggers does and blended that material with fiction, creating a nonfiction novel. The result is a story that truly is heartbreaking, frightening, and hopeful.
In the present day, Valentino is attacked in his own apartment and held for hours. When he is finally freed, he goes to the hospital to care for the wounds he has suffered and then on to his work in a health club. Throughout these hours, Valentino is, in his head, telling his captors, his caregivers and the patrons in the club about what has brought him to this point. It is a unique and very effective story telling device that serves to underscore the hardships Valentino and the other so-called Lost Boys of Sudan have survived and continue to struggle through.
This one is staying in my house (and if you've followed this blog for long, you know how rare that is). The only question now is, which Eggers book should I read next?