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What is the What [Paperback]

Dave Eggers
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

3 July 2008

What is the What is Dave Eggers's astonishing novel about one of the world's most brutal civil wars

Valentino Achak Deng is just a boy when conflict separates him from his family and forces him to leave his small Sudanese village, joining thousands of other orphans on their long, long walk to Ethiopia, where they find safety - for a time. Along the way Valentino encounters enemy soldiers, liberation rebels and deadly militias, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation. But there are experiences ahead that will test his spirit in even greater ways than these . . .

Truly epic in scope, and told with expansive humanity, deep compassion and unexpected humour, What is the What is an eye-opening account of life amid the madness of war and an unforgettable tale of tragedy and triumph.

'If there was ever any doubt that Dave Eggers is one of our most important storytellers, What Is the What should put it to rest... [A] strange, beautiful and unforgettable work' San Francisco Chronicle

'A remarkable book: harrowing, witty, wretched, delightful; and always compelling, always surprising' London Review of Books

Dave Eggers is the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity and How We Are Hungry. He is also the editor of McSweeney's, a literary journal and book publishing outfit, and the founder of 826 Valencia, a non-profit educational centre with nine locations in six cities. In 2004 he started the Voice of Witness, a series of books that use oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world.

All of the author's proceeds from this book will go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation. Read more at: www.valentinoachakdeng.com.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141015748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141015743
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 12.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 61,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dave Eggers is the author of six previous books, including "Zeitoun," a nonfiction account a Syrian-American immigrant and his extraordinary experience during Hurricane Katrina and "What Is the What," a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award. That book, about Valentino Achak Deng, a survivor of the civil war in southern Sudan, gave birth to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, run by Mr. Deng and dedicated to building secondary schools in southern Sudan. Eggers is the founder and editor of McSweeney's, an independent publishing house based in San Francisco that produces a quarterly journal, a monthly magazine ("The Believer"), and "Wholphin," a quarterly DVD of short films and documentaries. In 2002, with Nínive Calegari he co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for youth in the Mission District of San Francisco. Local communities have since opened sister 826 centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Seattle, and Boston. In 2004, Eggers taught at the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and there, with Dr. Lola Vollen, he co-founded Voice of Witness, a series of books using oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. A native of Chicago, Eggers graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.

Product Description

Review

Read Dave Eggers' What is the What – it's the best book of the year (Guardian)

If there was ever any doubt that Dave Eggers is one of our most important storytellers, What Is the What should put it to rest... [A] strange, beautiful and unforgettable work (San Francisco Chronicle)

'A remarkable book: harrowing, witty, wretched, delightful; and always compelling, always surprising' London Review of Books

Review

'A stirring tale, told with admirable simplicity by a classy writer'.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I couldn't put this one down. Even tried to read it on the subway when it was rattling about and I could hardly hold the book still. It is often heartbreaking but always honest and there is no self-pity in the tale, which is incredible. The only thing I didn't like was the use of a tale from his life in America to provide a backdrop to the "real" story of how he came to live in America. I found it a bit disorienting to switch between now and then without much warning. Perhaps it is just not a style that suits me very well and if you, the reader, know about it from the start it might not bother you. Apart from that I really enjoyed it. I had heard of the lost boys before but didn't know much about them. Here is one who tells what it was like to become a lost boy. The other stories are just as shocking. His details of how he struggled to adapt to America are also fascinating. How much we take for granted! Yet the book doesn't disillusion - it gives hope for the future. If Valentino can turn out well then I guess there is hope for this crazy world.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning and shaming 19 April 2008
By Stuart
Format:Paperback
What is the what by Dave Eggers is a tale of epic suffering told through the eyes of a young Sudanese boy who sees his way of life violently destroyed and together with thousands of others must face an odyssey from danger to danger and refugee camp to refugee camp until finally he arrives in the "Promised Land" of the USA, where, of course, other, different problems await. Has this amazing book slipped under the radar here in the UK, or what? 132 reviews on Amazon USA, and only three here??
Another book that will make you feel ashamed to be human, of course, as part of a race that will, for example, casually massacre defenceless villages and throw children down wells in order to clear a place for oil drilling, but Eggers, apparently working together with the real-life central character, manages to establish a beautiful narrative tone, combining charm and innocence with the heart-breaking sadness, and providing moments of warm friendship and comedy amidst the almost unbelievable cruelty and wretchedness of his everyday life. It's a tremendous achievement, though I often felt like closing it up and hiding it under a pile of cushions somewhere to avoid considering the world we've created.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Perhaps in telling the story of Sudanese Lost Boy, Valentino Achak Deng, who has seen things no one should ever see, Eggers has stumbled upon a way to truly break our hearts and inform them without being self-conscious or tragically hip. This is a tough and beautiful read, especially given the fresh horrors befalling the people of Sudan in the current conflict.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
i have enjoyed reading this book very much, not only is it very informative, but it manages to describe the plight of human beings and the way refugees and immigres behave and are treated. It is an epic story of our times, I doubt that any immigrant or person who has gone through hard times at their own country would not be able to empathise! a very good read, and also although the book tackles some depressing and gloomy events, it retains its sense of humour and lightness of touch.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Justine
Format:Paperback
Thank you Dave and Achak for sharing this bewildering story with such grace and warmth. I only wish, Achak, that you never had to endure any of these unimaginably depraved, cruel and heartbreaking experiences that you tell us of. The more eyes that are opened - hopefully the wiser watching we will be capable of!!!!

"What is the what by Dave Eggers is a tale of epic suffering told through the eyes of a young Sudanese boy who sees his way of life violently destroyed and together with thousands of others must face an odyssey from danger to danger and refugee camp to refugee camp until finally he arrives in the "Promised Land" of the USA, where, of course, other, different problems await.
Another book that will make you feel ashamed to be human, of course, as part of a race that will, for example, casually massacre defenceless villages and throw children down wells in order to clear a place for oil drilling, but Eggers, apparently working together with the real-life central character, manages to establish a beautiful narrative tone, combining charm and innocence with the heart-breaking sadness, and providing moments of warm friendship and comedy amidst the almost unbelievable cruelty and wretchedness of his everyday life. It's a tremendous achievement, though I often felt like closing it up and hiding it under a pile of cushions somewhere to avoid considering the world we've created."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't look for the what 23 Oct 2008
Format:Paperback
Southern Soudan. War bursts. Villages are eliminated, women raped, men killed, children enslaved. Valentino Achak Deng, a young boy surprised by this whirlpool of atrocities, flees. We follow him all along his terrible journey, in his quest for some peace. The harshness of men and nature leave little room for children. Innocence is tested throughout, sometimes with an absurd strong force. Sunshines are rare in this world, and often announce worse times to come. But in the midst of this constant violence, Achak's innocence remains, unaltered. Evil is always alien and misunderstood. No worshipping for vengeance or hate, where it would have been so easy. Instead, we witness friendship, love, dreams and hope.

The author's grasp of the psychology of this african child -in these extreme circumstances- is quite remarkable. Most certainly, this is the product of long discussions between the author and his subject. It still remains quite an achievement. I also enjoyed the non-linear structure of the story, as it helps emphasise the amount of injustice endured by the protagonist, as did the factual style adopted by the author.

And of course, one cannot get out of this book without feeling incredibly sorry. Unfair from start to finnish. Hence not the easiest read around, for sure.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book, everyone should read it.
This is an incredibly thought provoking book. Very well written and totally absorbing, it follows the story of a young man fleeing to survive atrocities in Southern Sudan. Read more
Published 2 months ago by A
5.0 out of 5 stars Life changing
I absolutely love this book and highly recommend it. Some people think it's hard to get into, but trust me, persevere. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Beth Torkington
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended highly
A gripping read! Beautifully written! Unputdownable! But content can be disturbing ie war in Sudan & the young boys caught up in it.
Published 4 months ago by Mary Holton
2.0 out of 5 stars Dark and depressing
Informative but hardwork and long winded at times! Esp the present day sections in America! I found it Depressing and self-indulgent!
Published 5 months ago by cballinger13
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and tragic, but so well told
Not for the faint hearted, this book gave me my first real insight into all it means to be a refugee, and the violence and senseless tragedy of the civil war in the Sudan. Read more
Published 7 months ago by H
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Disappointing, it just went on and on, one death after another. It wasn't the subject matter just the way it was written. Could have been much shorter. Read more
Published 7 months ago by R B Parrott
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastatingly Powerful
Although I have read few powerful books about individual's struggles against the odds, including those covering 'child soldiering' in Africa, I don't think I've ever read anything... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Keith M
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucky you live Hawaiii
A large part of our world is adrift in the re-tribalization of the feeble post colonial
nation states. This is the story of one lost boy and it brings it all into focus. Read more
Published 8 months ago by northshore mike
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Read
A truly emotional and moving autobiography proving a shocking insight into the life of child soldiers and those caught up in conflicts. Can highly recommend.
Published 11 months ago by AJR Miles
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiration!
A beautifully sad but surprisingly comical story that shows us that anything is possible if we continue to reach for the stars.
Published 12 months ago by Miss Stefanie Alonzi
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