**What is the What by Dave Eggers (2007)

I think I need to get out of Africa.  Actually, I’m a bit mesmerized by Africa, but in less than a month, I’ve read Cutting for Stone (which takes place in Ethiopia with lots of info on Eritrea) and Dreams from My Father (with a large section on Kenya) and now What is the What which tells the story of the lost boys of Sudan, including their many years in Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps.   More so  than the previous two, this is a difficult read.  Pages upon pages of details about starvation, genocide, war, brutality, death.  At times, it’s very difficult to keep reading.  Yet, it’s such an important story.  While I was graduating from high school, attending college, working as a teacher, going to grad school, getting married, and beginning a family, two and a half million Sudanese people died in a civil war and four million people were displaced.  I knew of none of this–or perhaps I knew, but it in no way affected my life.  It’s embarrassing now, to read about the plight of this country and these people, and to think that my life continued happily along with little knowledge of what they were going through.  Since then, I’ve read and heard much more about the “Lost boys of Sudan,” and have become much better educated about the war and about what they endured in their 22 years of flight, refugee life, and resettlement in other countries, including the US.  Though this is a work of fiction, the narrator, Valentino Achak Deng, worked with Dave Eggers to bring this story to the public, and thus, much of it is true as far as the narrator can remember.  Since he had to take liberties with events that happened when he was a young boy of 6 or 7, he chose to call it fiction–which I respect–though clearly, he remained true to the actual events as best as he could remember or as they could be pieced together by other sources.  At times, it gets a bit long and drawn out, but perhaps that’s the very feeling we should all get from the narrative–that this was a life they endured for much too long. Their trek from Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya is longer and more disturbing than I can possibly imagine.  The fact that it took place while I was living the college and 20’s lifestyle makes it seem even more impossible.   This is a must read.  And it’s important to find out what “the what ” refers to because that pertains to all of us.  I think we all wonder what ‘the what’ is.  Kind of like ‘the grass is always greener’ except that sometimes it isn’t.  (fiction/historical fiction)

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