What Is the What

Publisher: Vintage Canada
What Is the What is the story of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee in war-ravaged southern Sudan who flees from his village in the mid-1980s and becomes one of the so-called Lost Boys. Valentino’s travels bring him in contact with enemy soldiers, with liberation rebels, with hyenas and lions, with disease and starvation, and with deadly murahaleen (militias on horseback)–the same sort who currently terrorize Darfur. Eventually Deng is resettled in the United States with almost 4000 other young Sudanese men, and a very different struggle begins. Based closely on true experiences, What Is the What is heartbreaking and arresting, filled with adventure, suspense, tragedy, and, finally, triumph.



I have no reason not to answer the door so I answer the door. I have no tiny round window to inspect visitors so I open the door and before me is a tall, sturdily built African-American woman, a few years older than me, wearing a red nylon sweatsuit. She speaks to me loudly. "You have a phone, sir?"...
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1. In what ways can What Is the What be understood as a hero’s journey? What features does it share with classic works like Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid or more modern works like Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? What are...

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New York Times Bestseller
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

“Told with humor, humanity, and bottomless compassion for his subject. . . . It is impossible to read this book and not be humbled, enlightened, transformed.”
—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner

“Dave Eggers has made the outlines of the tragedy in East Africa . . . not only sharp and clear but indelible. An eloquent testimony to the power of storytelling, What Is the What is an extraordinary work of witness, and of art.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Eggers’s limpid prose gives Valentino an unaffected, compelling voice and makes his narrative by turns harrowing, funny, bleak and lyrical. The result is a horrific account of the Sudanese tragedy, but also an emblematic saga of modernity–of the search for home and self in a world of unending upheaval.”
Publishers Weekly

“[What Is the What] sings like a novel–a novel in which every phrase falls with exquisite, revealing precision and the themes of the story play out as satisfyingly as in a large-scale symphony.”
Seattle Times

“A work of significant strengths, What Is the What is not only a valuable cultural document, it’s also an engaging and often compelling read. Eggers has crafted a novel notable for its writing as well as its historical relevance.”
The Globe and Mail

“Hands down, Dave Eggers’ What Is the What stands as the single most thought-provoking, unusual and moving book I have read all year.”
USA Today