a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

An amazing read

Valentino Achak Deng’s entire body ached as he and some 27,000 other boys were chased for hundreds of miles from their homes after the Second Sudanese Civil War began in late 1983. Those who survived became wafer thin while dodging bombs and being chased by wild animals as they trudged to Kakuma, Kenya, and created a sprawling refugee camp.

Deng’s life is intensely told in epic proportion in a book, “What is the What,” that is now in paperback. The story was written by Dave Eggers and published as fiction because Deng was too young to accurately recall some of his horrific experiences while crossing three deserts to find safety and eventually reach the United States with 3,800 others who became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.

The story is funny at times and quite disturbing at others. Their experiences in the United States are not so pleasant, either, as some fell victim to murder and assaults over misunderstandings about a strange culture. While on the run in Africa, most of the boys had some idea about where they were headed, Deng related in the story. But in America, he said, "we are unsure of where exactly we are going."

Lev Grossman of Time said it best when he noted that the story was told in “a moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book.” Anyone who complains about life’s little problems would surely be humbled after reading about how bad the world can become for kids like Deng who are caught up in war.

And what’s troubling, today, is the fact that at least 100 people have been killed in Kenya in rioting amid allegations of a rigged election. The death toll is sure to climb. So some Kenyans have become refugees, themselves, from a country that has historically been kind to its neighbors without a home.

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