this is my space to review the books i'm reading. and basicly to show off my extensive knowlege of literature and elitism founded there on.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What is the What - Dave Eggers

This book was amazing. Now anyone who knows me is not suprissed by this declaration. Mr. Eggers could spit on a piece of notebook paper and I would think it was one of the most stunning thing ever written. With my initial declaration aside I will defend my position (though there are those out there who have already made the inverse opinion of Mr. Eggers and who find him to be pretentious and obnoxious, I don't entirely disagree, I just find that I have a certain appetite for his brand of literary neurosis) so on to the novel it's self.
as you may have read elsewhere this is a fictionalized (though I feel not so much in content as in arrangement and wording of it) account of one of the "lost boys" of Sudan. It follows his sojourn as one of the many unaccompanied boys fleeing Sudan's civil war and his experiences in the various refuge camps. It also, though to a lesser degree, follows his experiences in the US, both positive and negative. I'm going to critique the two elements separately, first and much more briefly the content, and second the style and structure, in an effort to separate the contributions of the subject and the author.
first of the subject Valentino Achak Deng, his story is one that could definitely be called harrowing. His experiences as a victim of the Sudanese civil war are heartbreaking. Both because of the terrible things that happen to him and because of the lack of control he has on his situation. Both sides of the civil war raging around him seam to take things from him and add to his struggles while claiming to be either fighting for him or to be his governmental protector. His and the rest of the boys long trip is filled with starvation, death, and uncertainty and a host of other tortures. But one of the things that make this story even more interesting is the small moments of fun and happiness that Valentino is afforded, it turns this from an overwhelmingly depressing tale to one where even in the face of grulling struggle we can see a few of the familiar joys of childhood, adding a small lining of hope onto what could other whise be a tale of almost complete despair.
as for Mr. Eggers treatment of the story. I think he takes the elements of Vaentino's story and arranges them quite effectively. The majority of the story is told as a silent declaration to the people in Valenitno's life in Atlanta. The initial encounter in the book is of Achak being robbed, and while bound on the floor with a child guarding him, he starts to tell us his story. He tries to absolve the criminals and later the unaware and unhelpful by telling them that they would not add to his suffering if they knew what he had seen. This format really works to combine the two deferent stories, the trials in Sudan and experiences in the US. It weaves together the tragic journey with the struggle to make something of it here, with meeting and committees and phone calls and organizations. Also Mr. Eggers does a great job of hillighting those small moments of Achak's childhood that weren't terrible, he shows us that beneath the awful treatment there were still moments where things were possable, a feeling that makes the struggle less tortures.
I feel like this is the book that he was trying to write when he wrote "You Shall Know Our velocity" but didn't have the plot for. A work to both apologize to the world for being as well of as he is and a way to try and take that liberal guilt and make something of it. But with this book he not only has the desire to but also the story, something that makes this book work as both a great work of fiction and as a vital work of journalism. Rather a nifty post-modern trick.


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