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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
What is the What
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on 19 May 2013
"...the camp at the edge of the world" these few words basically sum up Valentino's view of Kakuma (meaning nowhere) - the refugee camp where he spent years following his escape from his home village in Sudan as a young boy.

This was our book club choice for April and if I'm totally honest not one I would pick for myself. I can appreciate the difficulties and empathise but it's just not the kind of book I'd pick to read in my spare time - however, it is one of those books that makes you feel better about your own circumstances whatever they are having read it. It does make you thankful for living where you live and having the comforts and things we all take for granted.

The author, Dave Eggers, has written this book about Valentino's life but it's written like an autobiography. The preface explains that all the major events are true but maybe some of the conversations etc were fictional. It switches between the present day and the past with ease and I felt this was actually well written and described in the tone of Valentino's own voice. He directs his experiences to people he meets in America - gym clients, Michael, the nurse - and I think it's a way of telling his story, as obviously at the time no-one was listening but now we, the reader are listening, but you do wonder which bits are true and which aren't.

I don't know if I can say that I 'enjoyed' this book, after all it's about human suffering with harrowing scenes and experiences - some of it reads like it's straight out of a movie. There are a LOT of horrifying scenes in this book but I found myself becoming desensitised to it. Maybe if the book had been a bit shorter it would have been more powerful.

The scene that impacted me the most - the scene of them fleeing from the camp in Ethiopia and crossing the river whilst being shot at with bodies floating past - just an awful vision. And, I was really saddened that Noriyaki didn't make it.

That feeling of never being safe and always on your guard. I think he'd hoped that when he was resettled to America that he would be safe but unfortunately suffers the robbery at his home. The book also highlights all the things we take for granted and Valentino's adjustment into life in America, even such simple things as using the refridgerator

I'm so glad that he found Moses in the camp, so many of his friends and family had been killed this was a little glimmer of happiness and hope.

I do wonder if the man in the desert was real or was it a mirage or a dream? And after finishing the book I still wasn't sure what is the 'what'. However, following our book club discussion, we thought that the 'what' is taking a chance and not taking and accepting what is in front of you - which is what Valentino did, he took the chance and went to the US. We also decided we didn't like Valentino's girlfriend Tabitha, but then we wondered if that was because 2 men had written her and that as Valentino from a country that doesn't value women as equals this was why. As some of the other women characters and depicted that complimentary either, eg Miss Gladys.

You can learn more about Valentino's experiences and foundation at www.valentinoachakdeng.org

Read if you like biographies or non-fiction documentary style books.
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on 22 December 2013
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. I feel educated both on a mental and emotional level. I have walked with you on your journey through your story telling, Valentino, and I am changed.
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on 11 August 2016
amazing book, couldn't put it down. I liked the style set in the 'promised land' of USA and while being tied up and robbed, recounting the trauma of his life as a child in Sudan. Heartbreaking, historic, indescribable really. Thank you for writing it dave eggers
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on 11 June 2012
An incredible book. This guy writes amazing books. I still prefer A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, just for its complete originality, but this book is as good as anything I've read in the last few years. And better than Zeitoun in my view.
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on 7 November 2013
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.
Depressing sad but beautifully written.
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on 4 May 2013
It is extraordinary, terrifying and illuminating but don't read it if extreme human suffering disturbs you because at times it is devastating .I learnt alot about Africa that I didn't know before.
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on 20 December 2014
This book was recommended to me and I would in turn recommend it to others. It was informative about the plight of the Lost Boys and the region in which their troubles took place.
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on 22 May 2015
An amazing story about human survival. Even though the content was heartbreaking the story was told with dignity, honesty and no hard feelings. Well written and easy to read,
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on 25 August 2014
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.
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on 9 November 2014
I am an avid reader and prefer to read fact rather than fiction.
This book is moving, harrowing, ulifting and extraordinary and should be read by everyone.
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