What is the What by Dave Eggers - review by Sebastian Shakespeare

Sebastian Shakespeare

Arduous Asylum

What is the What


Hamish Hamilton 480pp £17.99

At first glance this book looks like a heartbreaking work of staggering worthiness. A prefacing note explains that all the author's proceeds are going to Sudanese refugees, and the novel comes garlanded with a quote from a human rights organisation. When did you last read a novel endorsed by the International Crisis Group? Whatever you think of What is the What, you cannot fault Eggers for his noble intentions.

The book is inspired by the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, who fled his Dinka homeland in Sudan and became one of the displaced refugees seeking asylum in Ethiopia and Kenya. In Eggers's novel there are in fact two stories, that of Valentino the Lost Boy growing up in

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