What Is the What

The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng : A Novel

Eggers, Dave

Book - 2007
Average Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
What Is the What
Random House, Inc.

New York Times Notable Book
New York Times Bestseller

What Is the What
is the epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children —the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny, What Is the What is an astonishing novel that illuminates the lives of millions through one extraordinary man.

Baker & Taylor
A biographical novel traces the story of Valentino Achak Deng, who as a boy was separated from his family when his village in southern Sudan was attacked, and became one of the estimated 17,000 "lost boys of Sudan" before relocating from a Kenyan refugee camp to Atlanta in 2001.

& Taylor

A winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award traces the story of two child Sudanese civil war refugees and their witness to the devastation that has torn their homeland, a time during which one struggles to understand what is happening and the other joins the rebel army. Reprint. 150,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : Vintage Books, 2007, c2006
Edition: 1st Vintage Books ed
ISBN: 9780307385901
Branch Call Number: FIC E
Characteristics: 538 p. : map ; 21 cm.


From Library Staff

List - Hotter than NYC in August by: NYPLRecommends Jul 30, 2014

Based on the real life story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and member of the Lost Boys of Sudan program.

This unforgettable novel is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

From the critics

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Nov 11, 2014
  • Chapel_Hill_KenMc rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Dave Eggers at his best, crafting a brilliant narrative from real-life events and memories. This novel/memoir has a protagonist you won't soon forget.

Mar 04, 2014

Eggers' narrator, a fictionalized version of a real person, is a Sudanese Lost Boy. Forced to flee his village by government militias, he survives marathon walks, starvation, disease, soldiers, bandits, land mines, lions, and refugee camps before winning the right to immigrate to the U.S. There's so much darkness in this book, but it's not depressing-- it's inspiring.

Feb 16, 2012
  • loonylovesgood rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

A remarkable book. Hard to read in spots but I found it hard to put down. It certainly makes you stop and think and appreciate what you have...

Jan 31, 2012
  • zavirani rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

An excellent story from the perspective of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Eggers writes wonderfully, with a lot of emotion and a great voice that doesn't feel condescending or pandering to a bleeding heart. It's feels like an honest account of the horrors of what these boys went through during the wars in Sudan and their subsequent lives in refugee camps and resettlement in other nations. But be warned, this book is depressing as hell.

Sep 08, 2011

An incredible book & I recommend it to anyone and everyone. You won't forget the story of the Lost Boys -- they will stay with you.

Jul 22, 2011
  • Harriet_the_Spy rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

A gripping book, tragic yet hopeful, and a remarkable work of art. American-born Eggers produces a completely believable self-portait of a South Sudanese refugee raised mostly in camps. The real Valentino Achak Deng both provided the material and embraced the opportunity for this novel to do real good in the world. Check out his foundation and its groundbreaking work in rebuilding South Sudan: http://www.valentinoachakdeng.org/

Jun 09, 2011
  • MelissaBee rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

"What is the What" provides another Dave Eggers classic where his curiosity and compassion for others shines through effortlessly.

Those who keep up with the news are aware of the large scale human tragedy that occurred in the Sudanese Civil War, including the use of youth as soldiers against their will. Eggers helps readers come face to face with one of the thousands of voiceless victims by telling the story of such a youth, Achak Deng.

We follow Deng from his once meaningful life among his family and village through the horrors of escape, entrapment, orphan refugee status and finally emmigration to America.

At each stage Eggers weaves the words of Deng into a compelling and engaging narrative that does not shy away from the complexities of such a life as young Dengs.

Brilliant work by a brilliant writer!

Apr 26, 2011
  • 22950011267937 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Wow! Great book! Read it if you want to be engaged in an amazing story of survival.

Mar 29, 2011
  • JUGEY rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Fantastic!! A very memorable story and very well written.

Dec 21, 2010
  • kitkat5447 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This book is written so well. Everyone should read it. It is amazing what the human spirit is capable of overcoming.

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Dec 23, 2010
  • BFlick rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

"... Now that you are here, on the most sacred and fertile land I have, I can give you one more thing. I can give you this creature, which is called the cow..." God showed man the idea of the cattle, and the cattle were magnificent. They were in every way what the monyjang would want. The man and woman thanked God for such a gift, because they knew that the cattle would bring them milk and meat and prosperity of every kind. But God was not finished. God said," You can have these cattle, as my gift to you, or you can have the What."
..."What is the What?" the first man asked. And God said to the man, "I cannot tell you. Still you have to choose. You have to choose between the cattle and the What?"

Dec 16, 2010
  • notTom rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

"We refugees can be celebrated one day, helped and lifted up, and then utterly ignored by all when we prove to be a nuisance. When we find trouble here, it is invariably our own fault."


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Jun 09, 2011
  • MelissaBee rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


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Dec 16, 2010
  • notTom rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Based on extensive interviews with Valentino Achak Deng and closely following actual events, this novel by Dave Eggers tells Deng's story with extreme passion and startling honesty. Beginning with the destruction of his home village as a young child and harrowing walk across the war-torn wilderness of southern Sudan with a group of children known as the Lost Boys, to life in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya and the frustration of attending community college in the United States while holding a job which pays little, Deng provides provides a voice for the social underdog. It is with a tone of frustration and cynicism, but not self-pity, that he describes the plight of Sudanese survivors in America, "We refugees can be celebrated one day, helped and lifted up, and then utterly ignored by all when we prove to be a nuisance. When we find trouble here, it is invariably our own fault."

Deng's search for "the What" is compelling, riveting, and provides not only a glimpse of the evil of civil war in the Sudan, but also a unique perspective into our own society.


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