Friday, December 28, 2007

What is the What

Quickie recap: In the age of James Frey, this has been classified a 'novel' but is truthfully the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a Lost Boy who was displaced from his home in Sudan when civic war breaks out. He walks with other boys who have lost their families to Ethiopia and dreams of salvation and risks death - and while he narrowly misses death, salvation doesn't even come close. Next he is relocated to Kenya, where a refugee camp becomes his only home for the next decade, until he emigrates to the U.S., where thousands of Lost Boys struggle to find themselves, to make sense of what has happened, and what continues to happen in the Darfur region today.
Quickie review: I think we all fell in love with Eggers in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and were suitably twitter-pated over his good McSweeney's work. But when you crack open the spine of this baby, you find that you're not in familiar Eggers' territory anymore. Well, that's not entirely true. His blend of truth and style is there. Even some of his humour remains, a trademark discovery that surprised me amidst such dark and difficult material. I know there has been some controversy as to whether Eggers has perhaps overstepped the role of author here, and supplanted Deng's identity with one that at times resembles his own persona, but I feel that rather he has helped to give a voice to a young man who has bravely struggled toward this very thing. It must be daunting to tell another man's story, but I think the story in this case actually benefits from the slight removal. Eggers can tell the story plainer than Deng could have done. Working together, they produce a document that is not just culturally relevant, but a good piece of writing too.
Quickie recommendation: I needed to read this book. The accounts of Darfur that we hear today are brief and isolated. You can't really understand the significance of the place, of the series of events, until you string them all together and see what they have meant to one person, one soul that is not at all unlike yours. To me, he is the face of Sudan, and the new ache in my heart.
***Quickie reward: Dave Eggers has diverted all of the author's proceeds to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.


Steve said...

If you've never seen it, there is a documentary called (oddly enough) "The Lost Boys of Sudan"...very well done.

Lorna said...

My librarian loves you.