What is the What by Dave Eggers

McSweeney’s (2006). 475 pp.

I tried finding a way to write a cohesive review of this book, but everything I wrote down sounded too trite or newsie. So, I crossed off everything and wrote at the top of a new page: what do I think about the book? The following anecdotes are the result of this.

I lost track at times at the fact that Dave Eggers was the writer. This is a good thing, especially with a nonfiction novel–he immerses himself deep enough into the character that I can believe, from his writing, that there were times he thought himself to be Sudanese, walking through the bush, and responding to the name Valentino Achak Deng.

As a reader, I was drawn in by the strikingly similar yet contrasting images between the flashbacks of the life in the bush and the present-day events in Atlanta. As a human, I was finally allowed to understand the heartbreak and suffering that Valentino and the other children experienced. The whole Darfur situation is made all the more believable after hearing a first-had account. The perspective changed from “those people in Africa all the way across the ocean,” to “this is what I went through as a child.”

The cyclical plot structure allows the sequence of events to seem like a story, not like a fascinating excerpt from a history book.

I was a bit surprised that there was no real mention of a religion. It would seem natural that anyone put through that kind of a life would call out to a higher power, or even to make one up if they could think of none to call out to. It would seem natural for someone in their situation to believe in a heaven of some sort, so they could hope for and be comforted by the fact that there exists something other than what they’ve been given.


About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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