Friday, January 11, 2008

What is the What (Dave Eggers)

I have just finished an incredible book:

What is the What
by Dave Eggers

I first came across this book when I started work at the Open Book. I was intrigued by it, but could only add it to my quickly growing list of books I wanted (and still want) to read. Months passed and it called to me all the while from its little shelf. I picked away at other books on my list that I already owned (I'm trying to make this my primary source of reading despite a lovely discount at work), and still it nagged me whenever I walked passed it at work. Finally, the book pounced. Jeromie and I went to the library to get an audiobook for our Christmas trip to Alabama, and it ended it coming home with us. I know I'm anthropomorphizing a book... or feline-pomorphizing it, but it did feel like a friendly kind of stalking.

We started the book together in the car a few days before Christmas and were captivated. The writing itself, the voice and storytelling, is incredible, and the actor that was chosen to read it for the audio format only brought the story more to life. We didn't want to turn it off! It occupied the whole trip to Alabama and back, and I finally bought the book when I came back to work. The book has been no less incredible to simply read.

What is the What is the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who trekked to Ethiopia, then to Kenya as a young boy because of the conflicts (understatement!) that engulfed the whole of southern Sudan beginning in the early eighties. The book is biographical fiction - written this way because, as Deng says in the preface, "I was very young when some of the events in the book took place." He notes that all major events are true and that nothing occurs in the book that could not have occurred in the real experience of these Lost Boys.

As a book, What is the What is gripping - it captures the reader from the very start and holds one's attention throughout. As the story of one life, and the lives of millions, it is many things: sad, hopeful, frightening, outraging, indelible. I hold images from this story burned into my mind, ones that I do not want to forget. I am ashamed that I have not been more than peripherally aware of the atrocities that have taken place in Sudan - southern Sudan, and now Darfur. I have been aware of suffering, even in my own town, but it has not brought me to my knees. I do not simply want to put down the book and go about my life unaffected. I also don't want to get worked up for a short time and fizzle back into the wretched complacency I've let in the back door.

This story has made me think, it's called me to pray - it has helped me to engage with my broken world in a way that I have not in a long time. It's one that I would suggest to anyone to read and consider.

In house church this week, we talked about our word for the year, and I think I forgot to share mine: SPEAK. As I finished reading, this word was reinforced to me. I am excited and hopeful of what this year holds, and of what God is doing.

1 comment:

Isis said...

Don't know if you know this already, but Dave Eggers is coming to Clemson to give a reading on March 7.

Enjoyed your post--hope to meet you at a SC RAvelers gathering sometime.