What We Love: “What is the What”


Today I thought I would share with you a little bit about one of my favorite books, “What is the What” written by Dave Eggers.

This novel is a detailed autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng’s journey as a young man surviving the Sudanese civil war. In the preface of the book Valentino writes,

“What is the What is the soulful account of my life: from the time I was separated from my family in Marial Bai to the thirteen years I spent in Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps, to my encounter with the vibrant Western cultures beginning in Atlanta, to the generosity and the challenges that I encountered elsewhere.”

I encourage everyone to read this incredible story. It not only opened my eyes to the long rooted civil conflicts in Sudan, but it allowed me to connect with the issues beyond the, at times, impersonal newspaper updates. Valentino shares the utmost personal moments of his life in vibrant detail, moments of fear, sorrow, joy, despair, anger, and hope.

The story begins with the destruction of Valentino’s village, forcing him to flee his home. Valentino eventually finds himself walking along side thousands of orphans on their way to Ethiopia, continuing then to Kenya in hopes of finding safety. Along the journey, Valentino encounters disease and starvation, friends becoming child soldiers, the few opportunities for education, and the occasional romance. Valentino depicts struggles of living in refugee camps and the difficulty once he is resettled in the United States as a part of the Lost Boy program. This is a story of hope and determination against all odds.

Since the publication of “What is the What,” Dave Eggers and Valentino have used all proceeds to create the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation VAD. The mission of VAD is “to empower war-affected Sudanese populations by:

1. Helping members of the southern Sudanese diaspora in the United States to enhance their educational, social, and economic opportunities.

2. Rebuilding southern Sudanese communities through the implementation of community-driven development projects that increase access to educational opportunities for children, women, and men.

3. Improving U.S. policy toward Sudan by educating the public and policy makers on the situation in Sudan.”

VAD’s first project was the construction of an educational complex in Valentino’s hometown of Marial Bai, South Sudan. This complex is comprised of the region’s first high school, a teacher’s training college, a public library, sports facilities, and a community center.

To learn more about VAD visit http://www.valentinoachakdeng.org/

“To struggle is to strengthen my faith, my hope, and my belief in humantiy” -Valentino Achak Deng

So, add this to your list of books to read and enjoy : )



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