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What is the What    by Dave Eggers Amazon.com order for
What is the What
by Dave Eggers
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

What Is the What is a very difficult book to read. I don't think anyone can completely comprehend the atrocities that Valentino Achak Deng witnessed. He is one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan, brought to the United States, along with four thousand others, to get his education and then, hopefully, return to his own country and work to help it survive.

The only thing the southern Sudan did was to have oil under its feet. Those in power in Northern Sudan wanted the riches that come with oil and unleashed genocide. From the age of six, Valentino was separated from his family and village and lived in refugee camps. His tales of the unbelievably cruel walks to those camps break a reader's heart. They did this reader. All through his ordeal, Valentino kept what had to have been his natural goodness. His story reeks of humor as well as trials of spirit. He marvels at the generosity of his sponsors. His story is a heart-wrenching but simply told tale.

Valentino becomes disenchanted with Atlanta, the city in which he began his new life, when he is beaten and robbed inside his own apartment. Then, after fourteen hours in an emergency room, he leaves the hospital without his wounds being dressed. Discrimination again? He grew from a six-year-old boy to a man in the camps. It's a wonder he has the positive attitude he does to even just continue with his life as well as reach his goal - to be of assistance to his beloved country of Sudan.

What Is the What is presented as fiction because Valentino can't remember the exact conversations he had over the years with his fellow refugees. What Is the What is almost an autobiography, written as it was told to the author, Dave Eggers. Dashes are used in place of quotation marks which seems to give greater import to the spoken words.

This book is written with grace and dignity, without any sense of Valentino's blaming the world at large for his troubles. It is told as it happened. I wonder how many of us could have survived seeing one of our fellow travelers children all - taken back into the bush by a lion, and hearing the sounds of a child being eaten. Or seeing men lined up and shot just for existing. What is the What is a survivor's tale of constant threats from predators (both four-footed and two-footed), rebel liberation armies, and the possibility of no, the probability of - disease and starvation.

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