Friday, August 22, 2008
What Is the What
"A moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book." - Lev Grossman, Time.
" A testament to the triumph of hope over experience, human resilience over tragedy and disaster." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times.
"A sweet and sometimes very funny story of one boy's coming of age...Strange, beautiful and unforgettable." - John Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle.
"Dave Eggers's triumphant act of witness." - M. John Harrison, Times Online
With recommendations like this, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng needs no further praise from me. Dave Eggers indeed, along with Valentino Achak Deng, has scripted one of the books of the year. Well, not exactly this year, since the novel was released in 2006, and seems to have hit Indian bookshelves just now. The book relates the story of Valentino, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, their traumatic journey through the country, and years of strife in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kakuma, Kenya, to eventual resettlement in the US.
Much as it is an autobiography, there is frequent blurring of fact and fiction, especially as Eggers writes about Valentino in Achak's own voice. As Valentino writes in the introduction, "over the course of many years, I told my story orally to the author. He then concocted this novel, approximating my voice and using the basic events of my life as the foundation." Through the media attention to the genocide in Darfur, the more than a decade long civil war in Sudan has lapsed into the background - yet memories like this need to be kept fresh, for at least then we might remember the horrors we inflict on each other. What Is the What is indeed an 'extraordinary work of witness, and of art.'