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Friday, 29 March 2013

Puzzles (jigsaws and questions)

What is the What by Dave Eggers. A novel of a real life, full of fictional truths and factual lies. The story of Valentino Achak Deng is slowly revealed as you read, but not in the simple way, like a coiled up piece of paper that has his story on it unrolling in front of you, not like that at all. It's more like a jigsaw puzzle: you have to read it in steps.

You start by making the outline, the straight edge pieces making the shape of your puzzle. In What is the What, Dave Eggers gives you a rough outline of the story right at the beginning... eliminating all the suspense from the story, in my point of view. But at the same time, he is also creating an empty space that you have to fill to be satisfied.
Next, you fill in the puzzle. It's very confusing at first, you have very little idea of where each tiny piece should go, what the final picture will be like. It's the same in the book, because you don't know how each detail fits into the story as Eggers chops back and forth between present and past.
Finally, the last few pieces. As you fit them in, everything makes sense. You can see the full picture. In What is the What, the final bombs are dropped in the last few chapters: Tabitha's death, his family reunion, Noriyaki's death, the 9/11 attacks just before he leaves to America... I would never have believed that so many twists and turns could happen to just one man in his lifetime.

Jigsaw Mashup by giveawayboy on Flickr.
Something I felt throughout the whole novel, especially in the last 2 books, was that Achak would not rely on himself. He always needed the help of others in America, even after struggling for so long alone in Sudan. So many Sudanese had success in America, but all Achak went on about was how he was cursed, America was no better than Sudan, he doesn't belong there... At the beginning, I pitied him. After all he had struggled through, fate still treated him like this? But as I read on, I started to realise it was mostly Achak's fault why America was not working out for him. He doesn't believe he can do anything, he gives in too easily to other peoples demands but at the same time, refuses to ask people for help when he needs them most. I felt like Achak was becoming too obsessed with his own self-pity and his troubled past. I understand what he had been through was more than anyone should have to face, but in America, he had the opportunity to make a new life for himself... and he didn't.

America by Cayusa on Flickr. 
And for me, the ending of What is the What left me completely and utterly confused. Throughout the whole book, we had been given the truths straight up. The events exactly as he remembered them; no hazy lines or blurred parts. Every minute detail was included. But at the end, I felt like the book just... faded out. I was left with so many unanswered questions, and for me, unless there is going to be a sequel, a book should never give you questions at the end. It should leave you feeling satisfied and full, like you have just eaten a big meal.

What were the results from his MRI scans? Did he go and live with Moses? What about the imaginary man in the desert? Did Duluma die or get sent to jail?

And most importantly... No matter how much I think about this, I can't solve it. I think I'm onto something, but then some piece of evidence from the book, like a quote or a truth, ruins my idea. What is the What? 


from the Purple Owl :) 

P.S. If this sounded like a book review, I'm sorry. All my thoughts kind of came out on this virtual paper as a very critical analysation, but they were just what I was thinking as I turned the final page of the book.  

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