Staring at What is the What’s cover, I found myself intrigued by the mystery caused by the book’s front and title. It wasn’t long after that I lay on the sofa and started to read. At a certain point I couldn’t help chuckling for I had been completely deceived. Every time that I thought I could further predict the storyline, it took a complete turning. This provides the book with such an effect which sucks you directly into the story. It is impossible to read this book without being forced to open your eyes and to keep questioning yourself whether you, who have always lived in comfort, could bear the burdens that were borne by the protagonist in this amazing, humbling and astonishing book.
This story is a pseudo-autobiography of a youngster named Valentino Achak Deng, living in a village in Southern Sudan. Anyone with little knowledge of recent politics must know that the north of Sudan hasn’t always been in harmony with the south. Thus, this boy sees the world he’s so familiar with being torn apart by the so-called ‘’murahaleen’’, who are sent by the government in Khartoum. This event is the beginning of a long and suffering journey, recounted by a grown and sophisticated Achak whose main goal is simply to let everyone know.
With the book labelled as a novel, Dave Eggers, the writer whom Achak Deng has collaborated with to produce such a remarkable piece of craft, could really free himself to use the right amount of fiction just to add charm and symbolism to the story without removing its truthfulness. Afterwards, the book’s reception came with great satisfaction. The book has received the Prix Médicis Etranger in France. Tom Tykwer, a German film director, has even planned to adapt the novel into a film. It wasn’t until 2003 that Achak was re-united with his family living in his birth village Marial Bai. Later on, Dave Eggers travelled with him to meet his relatives which was documented partly with a camera by Dave Egger himself. http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=vjqD3WWbs9s
The callousness in this book had me in awe for I had believed that the hatred and bitterness would have controlled my life had I experienced such pain and terror. Instead, Achak Deng manages to tell his story without pity and prejudice. With a swift language, the story contains scenes of tragedy as well as humour. The reader begins to share Achak’s sadness and joy, which depict themselves as a frown or a grin on the reader’s face. The story isn’t only meant to amuse. Severe war crimes had been committed while the whole world didn’t even know and it took them quite a few years until people began to realise that things weren’t as they appeared. Nevertheless, many stories like Achak’s remain untold.
Many things can be said about ‘’What is the What’’ and for sure, long-winded isn’t one of them. Although the thickness of the book may be a spoiler for some people who consider reading it, the story itself will take you into the head of a man who is in the middle of a revelation. Every word that is told will contribute to the conclusion delivered by Achak in the end after much contemplating. As Achak pleads:
‘’I am alive and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words. I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God. I will tell stories to people who will listen and to people who don’t want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run. All the while I will know that you are there. How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.”
Before reading this book, most of us had never heard of the Lost Boys who got chased after like animals and some, eventually, displaced all over North America, let alone the diseased ones while fleeing. Therefore, it’s only fair to say that this book contains a huge amount of historic knowledge and subsequently makes people get familiar with what’s there in the unknown parts of the world. A true testimony in its purest form.