Sunday, October 3, 2010
What is the What by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers’ What is the What tells the story of a young Sudanese boy who has been forced to leave his home and his tribe due to the civil war raging in his country. He, along with thousands of other boys his age, flees to neighboring Ethiopia and eventually Kenya to survive. These boys came to be known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
This book is a combination of a biography (written by Eggers in the first person about Valentino Deng’s experience) and history lesson. The story told in these pages is reminiscent of the Holocaust memoir Night, written by Elie Wiesel...only more intense (if that’s possible). The events that take place are unthinkable and disturbing that I don’t believe I will ever be the same.
While reading I had two thoughts constantly going through my head. One, this is not Sudan’s Darfur genocide. This was a different one. Even the people in the book mention that this genocide is not as bad as what’s going on in Darfur and the genocide they describe is so unthinkably cruel, brutal, and beyond the imagination of what actions true evil can do. I do not use hyperbole when I say this book describes some of the worst things one person can do to another that I have ever read or heard. That is saying a lot considering I am a history teacher.
The second thought I had is that these children were walking barefoot, and hungry for months to get to Ethiopia for sanctuary. Ethiopia! This is the same Ethiopia that needed Live Aid to help them through an immense famine. You know your country is bad when finding food in Ethiopia is the better option.
Eventually these ‘Lost Boys’ are brought to the United States. There are some overtones of how life in the U.S. is worse than in the Sudan due to the difficulty assimilating to our culture and way of life. I never really understood this argument and I don’t think he did a very good job of explaining it (probably because it makes so little sense).
In the end I feel I am a much better person for having read this story. I have read excerpts, good and bad, that will stay with me forever. I highly recommend What is the What to anyone and everyone and I especially think this should become required reading for every high school student in the country. And if you have any teenagers at home, you should definitely make them read this book.