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Download What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng; A Novel Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng; A Novel, by Dave Eggers Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (40,282 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Dave Eggers Narrator: Dion Graha Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Dave Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he’s driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia, where he finds safety—for a time. Valentino’s travels, truly Biblical in scope, bring him in contact with government soldiers, Janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation—and a string of unexpected romances. Ultimately, Valentino finds safety in Kenya and, just after the millennium, is finally resettled in the United States, from where this novel is narrated. 

In this book, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenge one indomitable man faces in a world collapsing around him.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Told with humor, humanity, and bottomless compassion for his subject…It is impossible to read this book and not be humbled, enlightened, transformed.”

    Khaled Hosseini, #1 New York Times bestselling author

  • “[An] Astonishing story…of immerse power, emotion, and even in the midst of horror, beauty.”

    Salman Rushdie, #1 New York Times bestselling author

  • “A book with the imaginative sweep, the scope and, above all, the emotional power of an epic. Intense, straightforward, lit by lightning flashes of humor, wisdom and charm.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “A testament to the triumph of hope over experience, human resilience over tragedy and disaster.”

    New York Times

  • “A moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book.”


  • “An absolute classic…Compelling, important, and vital to the understanding of the politics and emotional consequences of oppression.”


  • “A sweet and sometimes very funny story of one boy’s coming of age…Strange, beautiful, and unforgettable.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • What Is the What is a story of real global catastrophe—a work of such simple power, straightforward emotion, and genuine gravitas that it reminds us how memoirs can transcend the personal to illuminate large, public tragedies as well…Exudes authenticity.”

    Washington Post

  • “As an emotional primer about the impacted recent history of the Sudan, about the fighting between north and south, government and rebels, Arabs and Dink, murahaleen and SPLA, Eggers’ ventriloquism could hardly be bettered. He makes Achak’s an authentic and affecting voice of the grimmest narrative of our times.”

    The Observer (London)

  • “[An] engrossing epic…Eggers’ limpid prose gives Valentino an unaffected, compelling voice and makes his narrative by turns harrowing, funny, bleak, and lyrical. The result is a horrific account of the Sudanese tragedy but also an emblematic saga of modernity-of the search for home and self in a world of unending upheaval.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Reworking this powerful tale with both deep feeling and subtlety, Eggers finds humanity and even humor, creating something much greater than a litany of woes or a script for political outrage. What Is the What does what a novel does best, which is to make us understand the deeper truths of another human being's experience.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “An excellent audiobook…Reading in a clear, convincingly expansive African cadence that is a pleasure to the ear, Dion Graham sounds all the right notes of bewilderment, fear, discovery, mirth, and joy in Valentino’s coming-of-age in the Kakuma refugee camp and his abrupt exodus to the land of plenty, catching both the otherness and the universality of his experience and providing a compelling personal window on an ongoing global tragedy.”

    Library Journal (audio review)

  • What Is the What is a novel that possesses the best qualities of a documentary film: the conviction of truthfulness and the constant reminder of the arbitrariness of fate, for worse and for better. By setting his story of African annihilation and survival as a story of American immigration, Eggers ensures that it belongs to us all, as it must.”

    Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda 

  • “Dave Eggers has done something remarkable with this book. He has managed to cross many barriers both real and artificial to tell the story of one man’s tragedy and triumph in a way that emphasizes his simple humanity above the drama of his terrible situation. It is a book that shows there is no reason why geographical and cultural divides should prevent us from attempting to understand each other as citizens of this world.”

    Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation

  • “I have been interacting with the Lost Boys since the late 1980s, from the time they were first displaced in Sudan to their arrival in the United States. I thought I had heard and seen it all. But reading Valentino’s story has touched emotions in me I didn’t even know I had. Dave Eggers tells the story of Sudan through Valentino’s eyes, but he also elucidates the best and worst of our common humanity.”

    John Prendergast, International Crisis Group

  • “[Eggers] is as adroit at telling another person’s biography as he is narrating his own…Labeled as a novel, this work nonetheless has a historical basis and lends a personal face to the brutality of civil war, squalor, and the struggle for survival…While visceral and heartrending, Deng’s and Eggers’ joint story is ultimately a powerful tale of hope. When both People and the ever-glum Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times rave, how can one resist?”


  • “Eggers writes smoothly and never seems to interfere with the message of his subject. No one who reads this book will forget its scenes of acute suffering and the triumph of the human spirit.”


  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A 2006 Time Magazine Book of the Year for Fiction
  • Winner for the 2007 Independent Publisher Award for Literary Fiction
  • A 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
  • A 2007 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Ingrid Cops | 2/17/2014

    " Dit is echt een van mijn lievelingsboeken. Heb nog nooit zo meegeleefd met een hoofpersonnage, vooral omdat het gebaseerd is op ware feiten die voor mij ooit 'de-ver-van-mij-bed-show' waren. Je wordt niet bepaald vrolijk van dit boek, maar ik ben heel blij dat ik het gelezen heb! Een absolute aanrader. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Jhrebik | 2/15/2014

    " Terrific book. Painful and captivating. I couldn't put it down. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jen Denis | 2/12/2014

    " If you're choosing any book about the Lost Boys to read, choose this one. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Cindy Hartner | 2/5/2014

    " I am not a non-fiction girl, but this was probably the best non-fiction book I've read. The humble, grateful, hopeful characterization Eggers reveals in Achak Deng is moving, profound and truthful. I took my time in reading it because I wanted to savor every page. I highly recommend reading this important and attitude-changing book. "

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