Sunday, December 6, 2009

"What is the What" by Dave Eggers

Summary: A fictionalized account of the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan.  Told in flashbacks from Valentino's current struggles in Atlanta, What is the What follows Valentino's childhood in Sudan, exodus from his country, and life in refugee camps before being relocated as an adult to the United States.

Musings: I was vaguely familiar with the story of the "Lost Boys" from news programs and a documentary I watched a year or two ago.  Nonetheless, I'm glad I took the time to read a detailed and personal account of one person's experiences.  Although not representative of what everyone went through (nor, exactly, what Deng experienced), the book provides an engrossing look at the challenges facing Sudan and the challenges of growing up displaced.

One of the most interesting questions the book raised for me was what exactly can be done for people like Deng.  Relocating to the U.S. has some benefits, but not the success, wealth, safety, and care that had been imagined.  Nor does living in America (at least on the surface) help rebuild Sudan.  As an adult, Deng struggles between taking care of himself and taking care of his family and countrymen; between life in America and life in his homeland.

The majority of the book focuses on Deng's flight from Sudan and years in refugee camps.  Above all, the story is one of survival and perserverance, even at life's darkest hours.

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