Literary Community Pushes Borders

This week, our literary community, otherwise known as Book Club has been gearing into overdrive to finish the latest reading item. This month we’re reading “What is the What”. It’s a statement, I’ve been told – not a question. Written by Dave Eggers of “Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius” fame, it tells the story of a young Sudanese boy named Achak, aka Valentino, aka Dominic, aka Africa, who braves the perils of Arab militias, Karthoum military troops, hunger, child soldiery and American petty criminals to survive to live another day. I liked the book, which was a treat.

I haven’t liked all the books we’ve been exposed to in book club (among them “Late Nights on Air”, “The Master and the Marguerita”, and “Immortality”). Not my style I thought. I steeled myself to be one of the first to drop out. How could you stay in a Book Club whereby most of the books you were reading weren’t particularly enjoyable to read.

That’s when I realized the beauty of our little literary community. Part of the strength of Book Club was its ability to expose its adherents to a range of books they’d otherwise never read. So there I was slogging trough immortality, cup of joe in one hand, as I felt my borders (which admittably can be quite narrow at certain points) expanding quicker than Napoleonic France. Tis the beauty of our dear Book Club.

Book Club is our own little community. And isn’t that what some of the most interesting communties do? While they are always thought to be bound togeather by common interests, some of the best ones are also connected by a safe space to celebrate and be exposed to different ideas. Ideas that, like cough syrup, might not always be good going down initally, are inevitably great in the long run.

What is the What

CLJ Reviews What is the What by Dave Eggers

What We Read

What is the What is a statement, not a question. It’s also the autobiographical tale of Valentino Achak Deng and several other Lost Boys of Sudan, refugees whose diaspora has taken them around the world in search of new homes. Achak tells two stories in What is the What: first, he talks of the nearly impossible escape from Sundan – over deserts, across rivers, through refugee camps, dodging bullets and bombers and lions the entire way – and paints a poetic history of his people, the Dinka; second, the story begins with Achak being robbed at gunpoint in his apartment – the other half of the narrative shows an immigrant adjusting – painfully – to American society.

What We Did (and How We Did It)

Superaweome. As host, I engaged each Book Club member in a 1:10 (made popular by George Stroumboulopoulos’s 2:20) – everyone had to answer “what is The What?” Some folks thought it was the AK-47, while others thought it was Africa and others felt that The What was plain ol’ curiosity. The second activity involved Barack Obama. You see, he was visiting the refugee camp in Kakuma. Book Club split into two teams and each group was asked to put on a performance that would convince President Obama to do something about the plight of Sudan. It was amazing stuff.

What We Thought

War, poverty and being a refugee really sucks. This being said, in the saddest corner of the most terrible places in the world there seems to always be love, hope and peace that wiggles its way through the cracks. We reflected on hardship and what its meant to us. We talked about how friggin’ terrifying it would be to be hunted lions and, yeah, soldiers, too. The topical discussion of what the heck to do with millions of refugees around the world wrapped up this installment of Book Club. Thanks, Dave Eggers, for the simply fantastic read. This book – and this Book Club – was definitely one of the best.

As told by John Horn…