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What is the What [Hardcover]

Dave Eggers
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
Price: 15.24 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Kindle Edition 4.68  
Hardcover 14.60  
Hardcover, 24 May 2007 15.24  
Paperback 6.99  
Audio, CD, Audiobook 22.53  

Book Description

24 May 2007
At the heart of this astonishing, soul-wrenching novel is a true story of courage and endurance in the face of one of the most brutal civil wars the world has ever known. 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.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Ltd (24 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241142571
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241142578
  • Product Dimensions: 4 x 16.1 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 484,521 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


'One of the best writers around' Nick Hornby, Observer 'Eggers can write about pretty much anything and make it glitter and somersault on the page' The New York Times 'Dave Eggers has become J. D. Salinger, Ken Kesey and Jack Kerouac rolled into one' The Times


'A stirring tale, told with admirable simplicity by a classy writer'. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
I have no reason not to answer the door so I answer the door. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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
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
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't look for the what 23 Oct 2008
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-constructed story 18 Mar 2009
Using the techniques of novel-writing, Eggers has created an engaging account of the life and struggles of a refugee. The first three chapters are the most riveting and innovative I think I've ever encountered. I usually don't like books that flash back, but the suspense of what's happening in the now pulling against the charm of what happened in Valentino's childhood leave you dangling in the balance. The device of picking out individuals to tell his story to works brilliantly, and carries throughout the book without becoming too obtrusive. Just when the story becomes so dreary you don't think you can bear it, Eggers slips in another charming coming of age story. It's hard to know which is more heart-wrenching: his struggles in Africa, or in America. My only quibble is that I didn't find out the answer to Valentino's horrible headaches, and I cared about him so much that it really mattered. Dana Bagshaw
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
What an incredible story, very we'll told, that truly has brought to life the horrors of the Sudanese wars. I couldn't put it down and want to retread it immediately.
Published 21 days ago by AH
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 4 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 4 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 6 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 7 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 8 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 9 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 9 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 10 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 13 months ago by AJR Miles
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