What Is the What

  • by Dave Eggers
  • Narrated by Dion Graham
  • 20 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Dave Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he's driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia, where he finds safety - for a time. Valentino's travels, truly Biblical in scope, bring him in contact with government soldiers, Janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation, and a string of unexpected romances. Ultimately, Valentino finds safety in Kenya and, just after the millennium, is finally resettled in the United States, from where this novel is narrated. In this book, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenge one indomitable man faces in a world collapsing around him.

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What the Critics Say

"Engrossing." (Publishers Weekly)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Story Aching to be Told

Since the title of the book doesn't give much away, all I knew about this book was that I kept saw it on several critics' lists of books everyone should read. It wasn't until I picked up a paperback copy and read the first few pages that I decided I had to read/listen to it. The first few pages in print swept me into the story of Valentino Achak Deng but the expert narration by Dion Graham made this not quite biographical, not quite fictional book come truly alive.

This is a story about one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. I have met one of the Lost Boys and heard his story as he told it in around forty minutes. This is the story he might have told if he had days to tell about his life and not merely minutes.

It doesn't matter whether the listener knows nothing about the civil war in Sudan or a great deal. It is ultimately a human story, one that needs to be heard. This is also America's story - about how the US appears to people half a world away and the things we can and cannot do for other nations. At times it is a heartbreaking story but it is so much more than that. The book may not be 100% factual; however it is completely true. It is true because it is never afraid to display the world as it is: wonderful, terrifying, unfair, generous, compassionate, horrifying and hopeful.
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- Susan

Beautiful

Having read the highly self-referential A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a few months ago, I had no idea what to expect from Eggers in a novel about a Sudanese refugee. I couldn't imagine how the same writing style would work on that topic.

But Eggers plays it straight this time and simply tells a story. And it's a beautiful, moving story told with thoughtfulness, compassion, and a sense of humor. The narrative of the central character, Valentino, doesn't fail to convey the horrors of the Sudan conflict, but neither does it beat the reader over the head with tragedy. Valentino's calm voice instead makes East Africa (and the American experience of an African immigrant) real, impressing the reader with the fact that the Sudanese are as colorful, complex, and rich in their lives as anyone else. The fact that Valentino's both remarkably aware and astonishingly naive as a character makes him a fascinating witness to this turbulent history.

A wonderful book.

As far as the audio aspect of the novel goes, the reader did a great job with Valentino's accents and mannerisms, as well as those of Afro-American characters. The voices he does for some of the side characters were a little too cutesy for my liking, but it didn't drag down the overall listening experience.
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- Ryan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-04-2007
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.