“What is the What” -Dave Eggers (2006)
There are various factors that led me to read this book. The first was that I started an Eggers book about five years ago and couldn’t get through it, so I thought starting with another one might be a more accessible path into his writing. Another reason is because so many of my friends like Eggers’ writing and I generally trust their thoughts and opinions. The final was that I once spent time as a volunteer at one of Eggers’ writing centers, 826 Valencia, so being familiar with his work seemed like the proper thing to do.
I don’t know why I picked this book, and it definitely was an interesting – if not completely accurate – foray into Eggers’ world. I still don’t know what is his “voice,” and will have to read more of his work to determine this.
Stylistic issues aside, I enjoyed this book – if nothing else, it was a good history lesson. About a quarter of the way through, I started reading Wikipedia articles about Sudan, the SLPA, and the factors leading up to and resolving the war. Then, at about halfway through, I felt pretty awful because I had no idea where Sudan was on a map; for whatever reason, I thought Ethiopia was West of the country and Kenya North. Looking at a map proved me wrong, but I was glad to finally have some orientation and not be completely clueless.
As for the story itself, it’s pretty heartbreaking. With people sitting and writing about #firstworldproblems on Twitter, this made me think long and hard about the kinds of hardships I will never have to go through but that went on (while I was living my childhood) and continue even today. I applaud people like the protagonist in this book, who is telling his story, which is full of so much disappointment and sadness, yet still so much hope. At the same time, I mourn his loss of or lack of a childhood, and it served as a reminder to me of how grateful I should be for what I have in life.
On the note of the storytelling, I like how it was broken up, as a sort of shifting framed narrative, going back and forth between the present (which was really the span of a few days) and the past (which covered 10 or more years). This made it interesting yet easy to keep track of what was going on.
Reading this story, I do admit, got a little tedious at times. I don’t know if it was Eggers’ writing or the subject matter itself that wore me out, but I definitely needed a bit of lighter reading to break up the intensity of some of these passages. Also, this book is long, so that merely compounded it.
Overall, I recommend this. There are a few things I could complain about (description in some parts, a couple sections that had conflicting information in the passage) but overall, in reading this book, I learned a lot, and I felt a lot.
Began: June 2012
Ended: July 2012