Book Review: What is the What
“I live because I do not exist.”
If you are ever, ever, EVER tempted to think you've had a hard life, you absolutely must read What is the What by Dave Eggers. This book will rock your world.
“Humans are divided between those who can still look through the eyes of youth and those who cannot.”
Written in 2007 and technically categorized as a "novel" because Eggers takes liberties creating conversations and rearranging events, the story of the so-called Lost Boys is ridiculously compelling.
“We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible way to think. If I ever love again, I will not wait to love as I can. It is no way to live, to wait to love.”
The narrative follow the life of Valentino Achak Deng who fled his home at age 7 and walked hundreds of miles across Sudan. Achak endures the most gut-wrenching circumstances imaginable as he dodges lions, government bombers, and unstable "rebels." The loss he experiences is unrelenting.
“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.”
Achak ultimately ends up in Atlanta, but his surroundings are so unfamiliar that he struggles to make his way in the new world. He and his friend worry that any wrong move will get them deported. Every decision is weighed out against the odds that something will go wrong.
“We discuss calling the police. We have to quickly review anything that could go wrong if we do. Are our immigration papers in order? They are. Do we have outstanding parking tickets? I have three, Achor Achor two. We calculate whether or not we have enough in checking accounts to pay the tickets if the police demand it. We decide that we do."
You can't help but read this book and put yourself in Achak's shoes -- and be touched and occasionally terrified.
“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.”
Because of the subject matter, this is not a light, easy read. I have to put it down ever few chapters just to regroup (and I still have 100 pages left!!). However, if you've ever read Eggers (
is one of my favorite memoirs ever!), you'll know the journey is worthwhile.
“I will not wait to love as best as I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible way to think. It is no way to live, to wait to love.”