I can’t remember why I first noticed this book, I think I just saw it on the bookshelf at the library, possibly on one of the Times Top 100 List or something. However, I can clearly remember choosing to read it after I read the brief recommendation from Khaled Hosseini, of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns fame. Hosseini states: “I cannot remember the last time I was this moved by a novel… It was impossible to read this book and not be humbled, enlightened, transformed.”
No doubt, I can agree with Hosseini. I was humbled by this book, that is certain. A novelised biography, What is the What follows the unforgettable story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the thousand Lost Boys of Sudan. The experiences he has, firstly in Sudan, then both Ethopia and Kenya (where he lives as a refugee) and lastly in Atlanta, USA, are enough to fill a thousand life times with sorrow. And yet, while the novel requires dedication to get through its 470-odd – often heartbreaking – pages, the story it contains is told with an indelible charm and remarkable honesty. Eggers does not dull the real tragedy of conflict and starvation, heartbreak and death. But neither does he ignore the incredible endurance of the human spirit, the unexpected humour of life, even in its harshest conditions.
If you don’t know much of the history of the conflict in Sudan, if you would like an insight into what it means to be a refugee, if you need to be reminded of all you can be grateful for, this is a book you won’t regret reading.