Posted by: chlost | November 18, 2012

My first world problems….now in perspective

English: A village in South Sudan

My favorite hobby is reading. Whenever I have a few extra minutes (or hours) I read a book. When I find an exceptionally good one, I love to share it with other readers. So I am about to share an exceptionally good book.

The books that I enjoy the most are novels which transport me to a place I’ve never visited. I enjoy reading a good story and learning about a different culture, geography and/or way of life. Even though I likely will never visit Iraq, I have read about it and I feel as though I have visited an Iraqi friend.

This week I read a book about a person and a place that I likely will never visit-South Sudan. It is an amazing book. I will be recommending it to every reader I know.

The book, written by Dave Eggers, is entitled “What is the What” A rather odd phrase to us, but it has much meaning to those in the story. Those in South Sudan have grappled with that phrase for generations.

In learning about the area, I had to look at a map. Obviously, I knew that this was a part of Africa. Beyond that, I have heard of Khartoum, and almost everyone has heard of Darfur from news reports. My only concept of these areas was of violence, death and desolation.

de Südsudan, hier zusammen mit dem Sudan, um d...

de Südsudan, hier zusammen mit dem Sudan, um die Situation vor der Unabhängigkeit zu zeigen. en Southern Sudan, here shown with Sudan hightlighted as well to reflect pre-independency situation ru Южный Судан, Судан (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those visions were not wrong. But there is so much more.

This is a story about the lost boys of Sudan. I have read another book about the boy soldiers of Sudan, but the main character of this story was never a soldier. There were thousands of young boys (and girls) who were orphaned, abandoned or separated from their families in the over 20 year civil war in Sudan. In order to survive, these children walked from southern Sudan to Ethiopia and Kenya, then were placed in refugee camps. An entire generation of young Sudanese were displaced from their homeland, and spent their formative years on the run or in refugee camps.

This is technically a novel, but it is the story of a real person, Valentino Achak Deng. The story is set on a day that he was robbed in his Atlanta apartment. The robbery, assault and aftermath are intertwined with his life story. It sounds macabre, but it is a horrible story told with wit, intelligence and humor. This story reinforces the premise that people can be evil, but that there are many, many wonderfully good people in the world as well. Valentino’s story is riveting, all the more so as it is true, and was happening at the same time that I was raising my children, working, and going to school here in the US.

In the past several days, I have heard the term “First world problem” for the first time. This term kept coming to my mind as I passed through my day of trivial inconveniences after reading of Valentino’s life.

Perspective. This book will definitely put your life into perspective.

I highly recommend it.




  1. That sounds really interesting, so I ordered it. ($4 including shipping!) Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. If you like books that allow you to read about other cultures, I highly recommend “Finding Nouf.” This is a novel set in Saudi Arabia, with its strict Islamic culture. A young girl about to be married disappears and is later found dead in the desert. A friend of the family, a traditional Muslim man, forms an unlikely alliance with a more modern woman to find out what happened. The book was written by an American woman who married a man who was not only a Saudi, but also a Bedouin. She lived there with him until they were divorced and she returned to this country. Fascinating reading.

  3. I worked with a young man who was one of the “lost boys”. He didn’t talk much about his life in Africa except to say how grateful he was to be in America. For a man who went through hell, I was amazed at how sweet and calm and caring he was. Like others, I bemoan bad things that happened to me, but the worst do not compare to this.

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