Book: What is the What
Author: Dave Eggers
Like/Don't Like: It's tough to like a book like this, but I have to say I did.
Unless you've been living under a rock you have probably heard of all the horrible things that have gone on in Sudan for the last 30 years of civil war. It's miserable over there and whenever I read about it the whole thing seems too gruesome to be true. And yet reading this book not only makes it all too real, it also puts a name and a face to it. It is not a picnic, reading this book.
While technically a novel (it is explained in the beginning why they had to call it one) the book is the real life story of Valentino Achak Deng, a southern Sudanese refuge who is now living in the states. Around the age of 9 his village was attacked by the Arab run government from the north and he had to flee without knowing the fate of his home or family. He ended up walking to Ethiopia and eventually Kenya, from one refugee camp to another over 9 years until he was relocated to the US. He tells of such attrocities that it seems impossible for one human to suffer so much and live, let alone the millions who have such similar stories.
At the beginning of his story he mentions how in the early part of his walk with thousands of other young boys two of them were taken off by lions - just snatched up in the night as they walked single file through the desert. At that point I didn't think I would be able to read any more because I was sure that worse things were to come. And they do. Far worse. I won't go into it. But you wouldn't be able to imagine it if you tried.
So it's a rough read, topic-wise. But the style is effortless. There is so much suffering and yet there is a good amount of humor. And it flows beautifully from present day to flashbacks. Even the present day accounts are hard to read - they start off with Achak being beaten and robbed in his own home (seriously, the kid can't catch a break) - but the pacing of it is manageable. I'm glad I didn't stop reading.