Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: What is the What – Dave Eggers

What is the What – Dave Eggers

New York Times Notable Book
New York Times Bestseller 
What Is the What is the epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children—the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny, What Is the What is an astonishing novel that illuminates the lives of millions through one extraordinary man.

Review: I feel like a jerk for not loving this book. I also seem to be in the minority, so maybe you shouldn’t trust my opinion.

What is the What tells the (maybe true, maybe fictional) story of a Sudanese refugee who spent his childhood struggling to survive in various African refugee camps. As an adult, he comes to the United States and attempts to create a life for himself, but it’s far from easy. This book is listed as fiction and biography. It’s a novelization of a real person’s life, so it’s impossible to know what’s true and what isn’t.

Even though I didn’t love this book, it is definitely worth reading. The story is brutal. It helps explain the situation in Sudan and makes it more relatable for people who are living thousands of miles away from the conflict. It’s hard not to feel bad for the narrator, Valentino Achak Deng. The events that he (possibly?) lived through are truly terrifying and disturbing. It’s amazing what people can survive. This book shows humanity at its best and its worst.

Valentino’s story is devastating and inspiring, but I didn’t like how it was told. Most of the book is very slow and bogged down with somewhat-irrelevant details. Reading it was a slog. It took me about 200 pages before I really got interested in the story. The middle of the book is gripping, and I flew through it, but I got bored again at the end. With about 100 pages left, I was wondering when it was going to end. I had to force myself to finish it. I would have loved this novel if it were shorter and faster-paced.

The profits from What is the What go to a charity that helps people in Sudan. The book is worth buying just for that.

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