What Is the What
Reason for reading: For a number of years now I’ve had an interest in Africa. As a geography major in college I took a class on Africa and wrote a paper on Sudan, which is a focus of this novel/biography.
Quote: “We’re men. Now we can stand and decide. This is our first chance to choose our own unknown. I’m so proud of everything we’ve done, my brothers, and if we’re fortunate enough to fly and land again in a new place, we must continue. As impossible as it sounds, we must keep walking. And yes, there has been suffering, but now there will be grace. There has been pain but now there will be serenity. No one has been tried as we have been tried, and now this is our reward, whether it be heaven or something less than that.”
What Is the What is the story of Valentino Achak Deng. It is categorized as fiction however much of the story actually occurred. Valentino is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Sudan is a country split in two, the Muslim North and the non-Muslim South. In the early 80s the leader of Sudan declared sharia (Islamic religious law) which threw the country into turmoil pitting the north against the south. Starting in the early 1980s Sudan was embroiled in a terrible civil war which left many young boys (and girls) as orphans. These boys walked across Sudan eventually settling in a refugee camp in Kenya. Eventually thousands of these Lost Boys were resettled in the United States and other countries. Deng was resettled in Atlanta. This book simultaneously relates his trials in Atlanta and his struggle in Africa.
Unfortunately this bloody civil war was largely ignored by the West. While millions were dying in Sudan the West looked the other way. What Is the What is one of many opportunities the victims of this war have taken to tell their tale. This book or possibly one of the many other books about the Lost Boys should be read by everyone. It is incredible what these people suffered in their struggle to survive.
Deng, through Eggers, tells his story with passion. He so badly wants Americans, particularly those who assualt him, steal from him or ignore him, to understand his journey. We cannot possibly know what he and many others have experienced. This is an eye opening story of incredible pain, loss but also of strength.
If you don’t read this book or one others written about Deng and his countrymen at least take the time to learn their story. This is a part of history that should neither be forgotten nor ignored.
All proceeds from this book go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation which helps Sudanese refugees in America and rebuilds villages in southern Sudan recovering from the war.