It happens often that I read a book and it impresses me, but it rarely happens that I read a book and it just reveals in me a kind of sensibility bringing me sometimes to tears. It might sound corny, but it was the case with Dave Egger‘s What is the What.
I found out about this book from the forum of CouchSurfing, I ordered the English version about a year ago and left in on a shelf in my room until about two months ago. At first I read about 50 pages and then abandoned it for some summerish readings. I started reading it again last week and it took me around 5 days to finish all the 537 pages.
It’s not a book about which I could say I enjoyed reading it. You enjoy reading a book that tells a story, more or less invented, pure fiction maybe, with characters that evolve most of the times. What is the What tells the story of Valentino (or Dominic, or Achak), a Sudanese boy caught by the Civil War in the 1980s. A violent attack takes him away from his family at the age of 7 to the trip of his life. Everything happens to him on this 20 years trip : he makes friends, he travels through the desert, he starves, he sees his friends dying of hunger or eaten by lions, he runs, he hides, he learns to face his strongest fears. He grows up in the most hard way possible, but yet manages to keep his mind clear and not go crazy after all the horrible experiences. He is a refugee, he lives around 10 years in a refugee camp, he helps developping it, helps children go to school and grow up as respectful people.
At around 25, he arrives in America and starts the second journey of his life, this time with a different culture, a different jungle, different people, but mainly the same hard day by day experiences.
Most of the story is true, Valentino exists, he is one of the Lost Boys, who has survived the Civil War and told his story with the help of Dave Eggers. There are parts which are fiction, just to make the book have a more compact storyline, but all the facts are real.
What is the What is a book that made me shiver when reading everything that Valention went through. It emphasised again the fact that humans are the only animals that kill by pleasure and not for the need of surviving or protecting themselves.