Saturday, June 20, 2009

book review: what is the what

Time for another book review of my ongoing search for excellent examples of refugee literature. Today's feature: What is the What: an autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a novel by Dave Eggars. Spend a while musing on the title. Eggars worked heavily with Deng, a "Lost Boy" of Sudan, who also toured (even solo) to promote the book. This gives it truth and legitimacy on its side, implying that even if the events didn't happen to Deng, they happened. (This is the kind of thing that people go nuts and sue over in memoirs.) And, being a novel written by a talented author, it's beautifully written and structured. We move back and forth between the adult Deng, struggling in America, and the child Deng, who flees his home with the Civil War invades his village and ends up walking to Ethiopia, then back to Sudan, then to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. I love that it doesn't end with "and then I came to America and lived happily ever after." Anything but. It's a powerful read that teaches you about Sudan without feeling like you're being taught. Much recommended.

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