Terese’s Thoughts: What is the What

What is the What by Dave Eggers

First line: “I have no reason not to answer the door so I answer the door.”

As a kid, I had a book of science experiments and interesting facts about the world. One page contained a pie chart with a spinner. You had the same odds of landing that spinner in a tiny, designated sliver of the whole pie as you did being born in the United States. At the time, this was a new concept to me. I would spin it over and over again, wondering how life might be different had I been born somewhere else.

Summary

The title page calls the book both the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng and a novel by Dave Eggers. As Achak Deng writes in the preface, “this book is a soulful account of my life.” Eggers spent years interviewing Achak Deng in order to tell his story using as authentic a voice as possible.

Although the story begins with Valentino as an adult living in the United States, we are quickly transported back to his happy childhood in a southern Sudanese village. Through Valentino’s six-year-old eyes, we watch as his village is overtaken by militiamen. Homes are set ablaze and people attempting to flee are murdered. Valentino manages to escape but does not know the fate of his parents. He spends the next several years of his life on the run, evading armed forces (and occasionally wild beasts), battling disease, and struggling to find enough food and water to survive in the African desert. His journey begins alone, but he soon meets up with a group of newly orphaned boys like himself, the so-called “Lost Boys” of Sudan. As they make their way toward a refugee camp in Kenya, the boys encounter unspeakable horrors, but there are also moments of laughter and the teasing typical of young boys.

Once Valentino reaches the refugee camp in Kenya, his troubles are far from over. While learning to navigate the politics of the camp, Valentino is also going to school and improving his English. Eventually, Valentino is chosen as one of the Lost Boys who will be given a chance at a life in the United States.

Now a grown man and full of optimism, Valentino flies to Atlanta to start his new life. Although he has the support of a generous and caring host family, Valentino faces a whole new set of obstacles, including discrimination, isolation, loneliness, racism, and the sense of defeat that comes with toiling day after day to still just barely get by. A deeply religious man, Valentino’s faith is shaken by the sheer amount of loss and misfortune he has endured. Despite this, he never loses his belief in the power of education and the good of humanity.

My thoughts

The story is compelling, but it’s also Valentino’s rare introspective voice that kept me from putting the book down. Through it all, he never loses his wry sense of humor and quick wit. Reading his story felt like growing up with him–seeing what he sees, his thoughts running through my head. I came to feel very close to Valentino; I wept and raised my fist to the sky with each new tragedy he suffered. It is a special soul who can cross this sea of violence, loss, and indifference to human life and come out on the other side with his faith in people intact.

This book is absolutely heartbreaking. It is also eye-opening and inspirational. It is a reminder to me the power of positivity and endurance. Reading Valentino’s story has helped me put my own life and struggles in perspective and keeps me from taking for granted some of the privileges afforded to me simply by being born where I was.

F.Y.I.: This book contains descriptions of graphic violence.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon Week Three

Week three of the Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon is behind us and I still have 4 books to finish! Up until this week I was able to finish three books a week but this week had a really long book. It is taking me longer than anticipated. How is everyone else coming along?

Of the two books I finished I really enjoyed both of them. Below I attached my review for the new Elton John autobiography, Me. But I also read Carrie by Stephen King. I have never seen the movie but I had a basic understanding of the story line. I was shocked by how much I liked it. If you want to read my review sign up for our monthly newsletter. It will be in the November 2019 issue.

Me by Elton John

First line: I was onstage at the Latino club in South Shields when I realized I couldn’t take it anymore.

Summary: In his autobiography, Elton John takes us through his life from his childhood as Reginald Dwight to his life with his husband David. He gives us a look into the world of a rock star. He is very honest about his drug usage and other addictions. He discusses his friendships with other musical legends like John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and even Lady Gaga. After years of pain and loneliness he decides that he has had enough of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle and enters rehab and starts his own charities for AIDS relief.

My Thoughts: I loved this book! And look at that cover! Gorgeous. First of all I listened to the audio book version which is read by Taron Egerton, who played Elton in the biopic, Rocketman, released earlier this year .

I found Elton’s life to be unbelievable. He knows everyone. He has done so much. I loved how honest he was about his struggles. He took every drug known to man. He tried to commit suicide several times. I cannot imagine living his life and coming out of it okay. He does though. He survived stuff that would have ruined many others and did. But he is still standing. He has met the love of his life, has two beautiful boys and tries to help others around the world.

I learned a lot about him. And I found him even more interesting than I did before. He is currently doing his final tour and I wish that I could see him in concert. My parents did in 1984 in Tacoma, Washington. I am super jealous. Oh well I will just watch concerts on Youtube and rewatch Rocketman again.

FYI: I highly recommend the audio version but also grab a copy of the book so you can see the pictures!