To coincide with the referendum that took place on 9 January in Sudan we will be reading Dave Eggars What is the What.
This is the story of a ‘lost boy’ who was forced to flee his home and walk alone, and later with a band of boys, across the desert in search of safety. It is a very touching account of the human cost of civil war – and does a very good job of turning the stat ‘four million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)’ into real people.
Below are our suggested questions for the book, you can either post responses here, or take the questions to your own book club and explore the answers together.
Peace Direct supports the Collaborative for Peace. They work right at the heart of local communities; with tribal elders, community leaders, women and young people, to find ways to respond to conflict without violence. Find out more.
Let us know if your book club is following our recommendations and we’ll send you our info pack.
What is the What – Book Club Questions
- Valentino says that he wants everyone to hear his stories. “Written words are rare in small villages like mine, and it is my right and obligation to send my stories into the world, even if silently, even if utterly powerless” [p. 29]. Through Eggers, Valentino has found a way to send his stories into the world. Are they powerless to alter the suffering he and his fellow Sudanese have endured? What powers do they possess?
- Why is a personal story – Valentino’s story – of the violence and oppression in Sudan more valuable than any pure historical account would be? What emotions does Valentino’s story arouse that a more objective treatment might not?
- In what ways does What Is the What illuminate the genocide that is still ongoing in Sudan?
- What are Valentino’s most harrowing experiences? In what ways do they shape his character? What enables him to survive these ordeals and even excel in the refugee camps?
- What Is the What is about war and displacement and the struggle to survive. In what ways is it also a novel about friendship, love, and family? What moments of compassion stand out in the novel? What are Valentino’s most positive relationships?