Book Review of What is the What

What is The What by Dave Eggers tumblr_m2j9hfyvdY1qd9a66o1_400

I’ve been meaning to write a review for months now! Here it is:
This novel took me on a long journey. Although it was quite long, I was glad that I read it and there was never a dull moment. Because of the similarity in the struggle of survival in countries such as Sudan and Congo, this story had lots of information to help me with my own writing. It talked about the struggles of a Lost Boy from Sudan during the Civil War in Africa.

This story is about a young boy named Valentino Achak Deng. Valentino, along with many other boys of his age, some younger and older, walk for months to flee to Ethiopia after the rebel soldiers destroy the village of Marial Bai and other villages in South Sudan. Valentino is forced to leave his village, as well as his family. Now he’s alone with a bunch of boys he doesn’t know, and his family is probably dead. During his journey, he walks with more than 400 boys through the forest of South Sudan. On that journey, they encounter many obstacles. Many boys die of diarrhea, famine, while others are killed by lions, crocodiles etc..
Valentino is one of the few boys who makes it to Ethiopia. Although they make it to the safe land, they are quite disappointed with Ethiopia. There is no clean water. There is no food. There is no home. There is nothing. More groups of young boys, girls, and elders join them in Ethiopia and they make a home out of Ethiopia for three years until they are kicked out of the country by Ethiopians. Now they’re back to walking. For a year they stay in the desert of Sudan, and then finally make their way to Kakuma, Kenya where he remains for more than 10 years in a refugee camp with thousands of other refugees.

In the book, the author Dave Eggers goes back and forth from the past to the present. In the present, Valentino is living Atlanta, GA and has just been robbed and assaulted. He was promised that America would bring many great things for him and that he would even be able to obtain a college degree. Life isn’t exactly how he thought it would be. Instead, he just lost the love of his life who was brutally murdered by an ex-lover. He’s been at a community college for 6 years and is struggling financially. To top it all, two Americans have just robbed him from everything he owned to the very last penny in his wallet.
I loved this book. It is now one of my favorite books. Sometimes when you come from a third world county, you believe that living in the United States couldn’t possibly be as stressful or bad. Although it is not anything close to living in an over populated refugee camp or walking in the desert or forest of South Sudan without food or water, you will still encounter problems. New problems are always presented whether we want them or not. Valentino had such a calm spirit. He handled every situation in a way that I wouldn’t be able to.

After 16 years, while he was still living in Kakuma camp, he finally received news about his family and is told that his parents are still alive. I shed tears of joy for him. I was happy because at last, he had something to look forward to. At last, he could be happy and hopeful about the future. So many bad things seemed to be happening to him.

There were four people who marked his life greatly who passed away:
Childhood friend William K: He made the story more interesting when he was still alive. He gave Valentino hope for Ethiopia and fantasies about how soon they will all go back home to see their parents. He died while they walked to Ethiopia.
Deng: a walking boy who later became Valentino’s friend. He wasn’t very educated, but always had something interesting to say. He also died before they made it to Ethiopia.
Tabitha: The love of his life and girlfriend who was killed by her ex-boyfriend. He knew her since Kakuma camp. Now that they were both in the states, him in Atlanta and Tabitha in Seattle, it was difficult to have a long distance relationship so they decided that they would focus on school first, and then see about their relationship later.
“If I ever love again, I will not wait to love as best as I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a horrible way to think. It is no way to live, to wait for love.”
Noriyaki: A young Japanese man who came to help out and shape the youth program at Kakuma camp. He gave Valentino his first job and died during a car accident while leaving Kakuma camp for a Basketball tournament.
It seems like everyone he loved, left him. In the book, he often says, “God has a problem with me.”
I began to wonder myself and couldn’t disagree. This book really shows you how so many horrible things can happen to one person in one lifetime. Such a moving tale and the fact that it is based on true events is even more fascinating.
The language was somehow lyrical at times and had much power to affect and touch a soul. I was deeply moved by the story.
“Sometimes the teeth can accidentally bite the tongue, but the solution for the tongue is not to find another mouth to live in.”

Eggers did such a great job at writing the story in Valentino’s voice. It was believable, strong and impacting. It was written in first person point of view, which worked great. I don’t think the book would’ve had much success had it been written in a different point of view. I’m glad that I read this book. There are many things from this book that I learned, but the most important one is that bad things happen to everyone and everywhere–not just in Africa.

2 thoughts on “Book Review of What is the What

  1. I just finished this book and agree that it’s very powerful. I haven’t loved everything Eggers has written, but he did an excellent job with this. You may also like his book Zeitoun, which uses a similar writing style.


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