I recently read What is the What by Dave Eggers (M) . This is the first book of his I’ve read. Throughout it, I kept wondering if I was really reading Dave Eggers. The book is called fiction, despite telling the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese boy who grew up during the civil war, and eventually relocated to the U.S. Why is it fiction? Because many of the events took place while Deng was a child. Whether we are correct to assume that adult memories are more reliable than children’s, this choice would have given the authors more freedom in terms of structure and emphasis. The first-person narrative works from the present tense, and dips into flashbacks in a way that incorporates oral storytelling. I felt like I was listening to Deng, so how much of this book represents Dave Eggers’ style, tone, storyline? Does he even employ a singular approach to any of these appeal factors? He’s moved between fiction and non-fiction throughout his career. According to Novelist, his first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (M), is a “thoroughly tradition shattering memoir.”
After reading What is the What, I’m moved to explore more by this author. Unbeknownst to my conscious mind, I’ve already been reading other works of autobiographical fiction (by refugees, no less); here are a couple of titles I’ve read recently: Ru by Kim Thúy (M), and The Return by Dany Laferrière (M). If you prefer to visit the non-fiction section for true stories, check out the Voice of Witness series (M), co-founded by Eggers.