What Is the What
the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng : a novel
Eggers' narrator, a fictionalized version of a real person, is a Sudanese Lost Boy. Forced to flee his village by government militias, he survives marathon walks, starvation, disease, soldiers, bandits, land mines, lions, and refugee camps before winning the right to immigrate to the U.S. There's so much darkness in this book, but it's not depressing-- it's inspiring.
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Based on extensive interviews with Valentino Achak Deng and closely following actual events, this novel by Dave Eggers tells Deng's story with extreme passion and startling honesty. Beginning with the destruction of his home village as a young child and harrowing walk across the war-torn wilderness of southern Sudan with a group of children known as the Lost Boys, to life in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya and the frustration of attending community college in the United States while holding a job which pays little, Deng provides provides a voice for the social underdog. It is with a tone of frustration and cynicism, but not self-pity, that he describes the plight of Sudanese survivors in America, "We refugees can be celebrated one day, helped and lifted up, and then utterly ignored by all when we prove to be a nuisance. When we find trouble here, it is invariably our own fault." Deng's search for "the What" is compelling, riveting, and provides not only a glimpse of the evil of civil war in the Sudan, but also a unique perspective into our own society.
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"... Now that you are here, on the most sacred and fertile land I have, I can give you one more thing. I can give you this creature, which is called the cow..." God showed man the idea of the cattle, and the cattle were magnificent. They were in every way what the monyjang would want. The man and woman thanked God for such a gift, because they knew that the cattle would bring them milk and meat and prosperity of every kind. But God was not finished. God said," You can have these cattle, as my gift to you, or you can have the What." ..."What is the What?" the first man asked. And God said to the man, "I cannot tell you. Still you have to choose. You have to choose between the cattle and the What?"
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