Book Review: “What Is The What” by Dave Eggers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: December 22, 2016

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Submitted: December 21, 2016



Book Review: “What is the What” by Dave Eggers

"What is the What” is a compelling and insightful memoir written by Dave Eggers about the life of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese Lost Boy. Dave Eggers autobiography courses through Valentino’s adolescence and his travels from Sudan to the United States. “What is the What” is a thrilling, heartbreaking and eye-opening odyssey that brings to light the travesty of war. “What is the What” paths Valentino’s journey through his hardships with thought provoking phrases and strong imagery, brilliantly giving a voice to the voiceless and displaced.

This heartbreaking odyssey is filled with profound phrases that convey the tragedy experienced by Valentino and the many people he encountered. Throughout this book, Egger uses these phrases to convey tragedy but also highlights lessons so that the reader never loses a chance to gain wisdom. Through these insightful phrases, he sparks wonder and deep thinking from the reader about the unfortunate lives of the children during the Sudanese civil war. These insightful phrases allow the reader to understand Valentino’s perspective as he experiences tragedy and loss. As the author states, “I lost someone very close to me and afterward I believed I could have saved him had I been a better friend to him. But everyone disappears, no matter who loves them(10).” This phrase provokes the acceptance of loss, as many people are afraid to lose the people closest to them. Though, regardless of how grim this may be, this is a lesson of life, igniting deep thought from the reader and allowing them to gain wisdom of tragedy they may share with Valentino. The phrase “But everyone disappears” shows the author’s realization about death, allowing the reader to gain the same insight, that death is inevitable. Loss is experienced by all, and this similarity with the reader allows the reader to understand Valentino's view on loss; allowing them to gain knowledge about Valentino's perspective and the tragedy of his circumstance. Also, the author states,”If a boy became sick he walked alone; the others were afraid to catch what he had, and did not want to know him too well for he would surely die soon. We did not want his voice in our heads(223).” This is heartbreaking because they understand that life and death are not far apart and that fate is the only deciding factor at such a young age. This book brings light to the lives that suffered such fates, so people across the world can understand these people’s hardships. These thought- provoking phrases make this book an amazing read, as they pull on the mind of the reader, and force them to think deeply about Valentino's perspective that was shaped by his tragic experiences. These phrases show the level of impact Valentinos experiences had on his identity and the way he views the world allowing the reader to gain wisdom of things beyond their knowledge. This memoir is truly eye-opening because through Valentino’s travels and hardships, the reader is also given insight into the lives of the many people who suffered during the civil war in Sudan. As the story of one is told, the experiences of others are also conveyed and the heartbreaking lives of many are witnessed.

This book could not have its powerful grasp on the reader, without its detailed imagery, which truly connects and takes the reader through Valentino's journey allowing them to understand his hardships and loss. The imagery in this book creates a bridge between the author and the reader, allowing them to see from the same lens so they can truly grasp the heartbreaking elements of the book. As the author states,“I ran. But I was too loud. When I ran through the grass I seemed to be begging the world to notice me, to devour me. I tried to make my feet lighter but I could not see where I was placing them. It was black everywhere, there was no moon that night, and I had to run with my hands rigid in front of me(95).” This imagery shows the dangers and hardships Valentino experienced as he tried to escape the war with words such as “devour” and “black” which generate a sense of worry and anticipation. These words paint a visual but also convey Valentino’s emotions of fear and panic as he tried to escape. These visuals allow the reader to understand, that of which they’ve never seen or experienced themselves and understand the hardships Valentino faced. Through this imagery the reader can grasp Valentino’s intense emotions, compelling them to find out the events that will transpire. Also the author states,

“I look at the land. It looked.  exactly like the other side of the river, the side that was Sudan, the side we left. There were no homes. There were no medical facilities. No food. No water for drinking already. There were Sudanese adults spread out across the fields, refugees who had arrived before us, lying on the ground, sick and dying. This was not the Ethiopia we had walked for. I was sure we had further to go(227).”

This imagery shows the devastation of Africa during the civil war as people died and even land that was meant for safety and refuge lie as a wasteland. Even though the reader has never experienced such travesty this imagery allows them to see from Valentino’s perspective as he searched for a safe haven that he never materialized. These pieces of imagery, contribute to the excellence of this book because they brilliantly depict Valentino's emotions and the lands that shaped his identity.

“What is the What” by Dave Eggers courses through the life of Valentino Achak Deng with thought provoking phases and detailed imagery that brilliantly gives a voice to many children who suffered during the Sudan Civil War. The insightful phrases, provoke deep thought and describe Valentino’s hardships, while the compelling imagery paints a visual of the lands that shaped Valentino’s identity. This book is definitely a worthwhile read as it for it’s compelling plot and imagery, that bring to light the many voices that suffered during the Sudan civil war. This truly is an amazing book, and should definitely be added to your Summer reading list.

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