Sunday, April 11, 2010

What is the What by Dave Eggers

This is a novelized version of the life of Valentino Achak Deng. It took some time to read, not because it's badly written or particularly long, but because it's gut-wrenching. Deng was born in a small village in Sudan, called Marial Bai. He has a father, several mothers (it's common for the man to have several wives) and several brothers and sisters. I'm not even going to pretend that I understand everything that happened within Sudan during their civil war. Honestly, not a lot of it makes sense to me. I understand that Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan are split and Southern Sudan is ruled by a government in Khartoum, similar to Darfur. The government didn't to anything to help the people of Sudan and ended up making Southern Sudan and Darfur some of the poorest countries out there.

When the rebel groups (the SPLA) came together to fight the government, essentially all hell broke loose. Children like Deng became The Lost Boys aka Unaccompanied Minors because the majority of them who weren't killed or enslaved, watched their families be killed or enslaved by the murahaleen. The Lost Boys banded together, sort of, and walked for months to get to Ethiopia where they were hoping for shelter and food. They got a refugee camp, Pinyudo, that the SPLA picked through to help their ranks. Not a good thing.

After being forced from Ethiopia, when the president was overturned and the natives got pissed, they carried on walking to another refugee camp and then to another. At the last camp, Kakuma, Deng stayed for 10 years.

Interspersed throughout the book is modern day Deng, living in Atlanta. And being beaten and robbed and told to "Go back to Africa". Nicely patriotic.

The story is told somewhat matter of fact but still contains emotion and horror. It seems that Deng is able to describe how boys on the walk were eaten by lions on a regular basis and just dropped dead from dehydration and starvation or any disease imaginable in a "that's just the way it was" manner. Deng questioned often whether God had it out for him, as it does seem that he has terrible misfortune. Through everything, Deng is a survivor. That much is crystal clear.

Deng and Eggers have a foundation to help Sudanese and the web site explains more of what he is doing and how the war in Sudan is fairing.
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