Paperbacks: What Is The What, by Dave Eggers

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The Independent Culture

Acclaimed for memoirs of his own dysfunctional childhood, Eggers here focuses his forensic attention on the story of Valentino Achak Deng, whose teenage years were shaped by unimaginable terrors.

One of 20,000 "Lost Boys" displaced during the war in Sudan, he walked thousands of miles to resettlement camps in Ethiopia before relocation to America. Eggers, who taped conversations with Valentino over four years, acts as his subject's voice. The book opens with the immigrant robbed at gunpoint in Atlanta. Having survived lions and militia, this proved one assault too many. "In my life," he says, "I have been struck in many ways, but never with the barrel of a gun."