I could feel the truth of this statement deep in my core as I finished "What is the What" by David Eggers. I can't tell you how many times I was reduced to tears while reading. Even after knowing several Lost Boys in Tucson and hearing their stories face to face, I still struggled to fathom how the human soul can bear so much hardship. It just doesn't seem possible, and yet, this is historical fiction...more historical than fiction I believe. Events such as those in the book do and did indeed take place. Just when you think Achak Deng, the main character, can suffer no more, another blow comes from a new direction. It is exhausting and heartbreaking. I had to wonder where his strength comes from when the future is so uncertain and hopes and dreams are slow if ever to materialize. And it is that same strength and relentless hope that kept me turning the pages wanting to know and believe that their is a future for Lost Boys like Achak.
"It was a broken world, I knew then, that would allow a boy such as me to bury a boy such as William K."
The literary approach by Eggers is effective but occasionally confusing. Achak Deng tells his story, silently in his own mind, to anyone that comes across his path in a series of flashbacks amid current events. What's effective about this style mixing the past and present is that it demonstrates how strongly the past is carried into the present and contrasts current suffering to that of the past. What I found occasionally confusion, was keeping straight who he was "talking to" at any one time. I would get so wrapped up in the story, forgetting it was a flashback, when he would say "Julian, it was a long time walking..." I had forgotten who Julian was in the present day and was searching to place him in the story of the past but couldn't remember who he/she was.
Overall, I am glad to have read "What is the What". The story needs to be told and was done so in a creative and respectful manner. The World Report on the BBC still reports on Sudan several times a week. I do hope for a future for the Lost Boys and their people back home.