Friday, 5 February 2010

What is the what

I've been reading the most amazing book for the past month or so...this book:

What is the What
The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng
A Novel
Dave Eggers
First published 2006

(There are a couple of different editions and covers but my copy looks like the one above - minus the amazon arrow).

'What is the What' is about a young boy living in Southern Sudan, living through the horrors of civil war, living in refugee camps for about a decade (in Ethiopia and then Kenya) and then living as a young man in the USA. You can read more about the book and Valentino here.

I feel really overwhelmed on finishing it to be honest. It is one of those books that once read will never be forgotten. It is gripping, heartbreaking, inspiring, kind of earthshattering...but at the same time it is still the story of an ordinary boy's life. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

Now I feel a bit like I need to go and sit in a cupboard for the next month or so. But I won't.



Liz said...

Sounds engrossing, Rachel, if exhausting too...can't afford to check it out now (I mean, afford, emotionally) but will do so come July.

Oh and thought I had commented below on the 'love actually' post...just to say, enjoyed both post and poem...had me grinning the whole way through - and when that happens.

Rachel Fox said...

On 'What' - I actually got this book over a year ago but my Mum read it first (I was reading something else at the time). When she talked about it I thought 'oh wow - I'm not sure I can read that and get through all the stupid things I have to do day to day without collapsing into a pile of tears' (I mean I cry quite a lot anyway). So it sat on my shelf all last year until finally after Xmas I thought 'come on, you stupid idiot, read it' and I started it in January.

I honestly can't remember the last book that made such an impression on me. It is an amazing story and it is just beautifully written (with such care and detail). Yes, it is very, very sad in places but it is worth it for lots and lots of reasons. It's the kind of book a person could get quite evangelical about. I might just buy a thousand copies and walk the streets handing them out...go into hotel rooms and leave one by each bed. You know the kind of thing.


Totalfeckineejit said...

What is the what! Or, what is the what? Or why is the who/When is the wherefore art thou Dedalus? Which is the witch, where is the lion and the hot press? Do you know the way to san José without the aid of satnav? The angle sum of a Vimto sandwich is in the loft of the hypotenuse,apparently?

Eryl Shields said...

This has been on my want it list for ages, I love Dave Eggers anyway but the myth of the What is so good – not that I can't remember it, exactly, at the moment.

Eryl Shields said...

...not that I can remember it.

Rachel Fenton said...

Hmn - one for the list!

A lovely parcel arrived today, courtesy of you and number 52!

Many thanks!

Rachel Fox said...

I would urge you all to read it. And buy a new copy from a shop if possible...because in my copy it says 'all of the author's proceeds will go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, which distributes funds to Sudanese refugess in America; to rebuilding southern Sudan, beginning with Marial Bai; to organizations working for peace and humanitarian relief in Darfur; and to the college education of Valentino Achak Deng.'


Dominic Rivron said...

Sounds good, but not my cup of tea - I'm still itching to read the Mark Steel, though.

(Reminds me, my mum and I have diametrically opposed tastes in books. If she says "you must read xyz" I immediately know I'll not get past page 1. She's usually the same with me favourites!)

Rachel Fox said...

I honestly can't think how this book could br not somebody's 'cup of tea' (poetry editors use that expression all the time...well, to me anyway). I could understand if someone didn't feel up for all the sadness in 'What' at a particular point in time...but beyond's just a huge story as much as anything...and so much about the world we live in now (politics/race/war/ many things come in to it).

hope said...

Another one for the reading list..and you've added good ones to my bookshelf so far!

I felt the same way after reading "In The Hot Zone" by Kevin Sites. The subtitle is "One Man, One Year, 20 Wars". The title almost put me off but it was fascinating and made me want to cry at times too. It doesn't focus on the "gun" aspect but of the people: what they believe and how women/children are often the victims. But in spite of how much of a downer that sounds like, there were so many stories which showcased the human spirit and how people find good in horrible situations.

Rachel Fox said...

Sounds interesting, Hope, and I've never heard of Sites (though we have our own super-hero reporters over here boldly go etc.).

The interesting thing about 'What' is that although written by a North American it is very much the story of one young Sudanese boy/man. The part of the book where Valentino is taken to the US and his subsequent treatment there is in some ways one of the most shocking sides of the book too (maybe I shouldn't have been shocked...but I was). Mind you, mistreating refugees is something the British like to indulge in fairly frequently too. So I read anyway.


Titus said...

Getting it now! I know a recommendation when I see one.

Rachel Fox said...

I'll be interested to hear how you get on with it, T.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I always feel hugely privileged when I come across a book which has a really profoud effect on me Rachel. It doesn't happen very often. I shall look out for this book.

Rachel Fox said...

Please do, Weaver!