what is the what reviewed

May 27, 2008

Several other books got in the way, but finally I got to read Dave Eggers’ ‘What is the What‘, his version of Valentino Achak Deng’s story of how war transported him from his village in Southern Sudan through a several refugee camps finally to his struggle to build a new life in America, with several thousand other young men collectively known as The Lost Boys of Sudan.

The book is written in the first person and jumps back and forth between America and Deng’s life story in more or less chronological order. The style was simple and concise, but variously also funny and disturbing. Most importantly for me, it gave a voice and a history to one of the many faces that stare out of photos of war zones and refugee camps. I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered how refugees get to where they are and what life there means to them. This book told me how for one person.

In Deng’s life, running from war meant a much more trudging, seemingly ever-lasting and very hungry walk with hundreds of others of months to reach the temporary safety of Ethiopia. Once there, there were still several dashes before arriving at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

Although relatively safe there, camp life forces its inhabitants to live in limbo for years, if not decades: as long as conflicts remain unresolved thay cannot go back and have few options for repatriation to third countries. While food is provided it is by no means abundant. Your plans for your life are taken completely out of your hands. And even if you are given asylum somewhere else, adapting and getting on proved much more difficult than any of the young men could have anticipated.

Although Southern Sudan is now relatively calm, Darfur, in the West of Sudan is still a conflict zone. Deng’s website gives good background to the situation both historically and today, and compares the two conflicts. It’s also a good place to learn what happened after the book. Both Eggers and Deng have visited and their reports on their trips with lots of photos are also available there. Excitingly, Eggers will be in Oslo tomorrow for an interview at Litteraturhuset, and we have tickets. I wonder what he’ll have to say.

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2 Responses to “what is the what reviewed”

  1. notablogger Says:

    Rather curious to know what you think of the Eggers visit as my friend and I were just talking about him and McSweeney’s over the weekend… Enjoy!

  2. sunburn Says:

    oh yes? and what were you and your freidn saying about him and mcsweeney’s?

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