I've stopped reading What is the What. I've had thoughts of stopping for a little under a week, now, and I kept chalking it up to just not feeling like I have enough time to devote to the book. I read a page, two maybe, at night before the words begin to dance and I drool. I haven't been reading in traffic, or on lunch break. Then I thought that it was the subject matter; not giving me enough of an escape from the everyday. Which is absurd, because Deng in a refugee camp in Ethiopia is pretty damn far from my everyday.
I keep circling around different explanations because none of them seem to fit quite right. Because: it is a very good book. And: I feel glad when I am reading it to be reading it. Also: I look forward to finding out more about what happens, and am enjoying the writing style, so much so that I'm willing to give How We Are Hungry another shot. Etc. I still haven't really settled on an answer I'm comfortable with; it isn't as simple as liking or not liking the book. It may just be a right book/wrong time sort of thing. I think, also, that one of the book's strengths is the way Eggers puts the reader both in Deng's past and his present, moving back and forth as Deng goes over his story in his mind to various ineffectual American service providers, entering and exiting his life; it's a great device, but it's starting to feel like a device, not organic and fluid.
It's about time for me to be starting a "Books started but not finished" pile anyway, and this one will go to the top, for when my mind's in a different place.
Meantime, others are continuing to look at the book:
Deng is kept going by faith, something not exactly in evidence in Eggers before. It draws on a panoply of religions both inherited and encountered, but, except for one suicidal episode, maintains an indestructible faith in a God. Which is to say, in the varying degrees of goodness in others. So maybe Eggers, once a lost, orphaned boy and brother himself, actually comes less strangely than expected to the subject. Deng's beliefs kept Deng honorable, and helped him find one of our more honorable writers for his story. There is even a happy ending beyond the book's (the proceeds of which go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation). After years of rejection, red tape and set-backs, he's now in his second year at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.
Not entirely accurate: at the reading the other night, he mentioned that he's taking time off from school to tour doing readings, and is planning to return to Marial Bal this summer to oversee construction of a community center that is coming together in part thanks to Deng's foundation.
And, of course, the story is not actually finished, despite the publication of the book:
Valentino Achak Deng Foundation: www.valentinoachakdeng.comThe foundation supports organizations and people trying to improve life for the Sudanese in the United States and in Sudan. To donate, tax-deductible checks can be sent to:The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation849 Valencia St.San Francisco, CA 94110Lost Boys Foundation: http://www.thelbf.org/International Rescue Committee (IRC): http://www.theIRC.org
So, obviously, my write-up of the reading is on hold indefinitely. This collection of links includes a YouTube of them reading together, so you... are... there without waiting for me to pull it together.
And the interview? Dave's flight was delayed; he arrived just in time for the reading. And no chance of me catching him afterward, with a couple of hundred people looking for his autograph - and anyway, I had to leave early. So, alas, no interview.