The third book in HPPR’s Radio Readers Fall read bears the enigmatic title of What is the What. A collaborative effort between novelist Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng, the novel is set, primarily, in war-torn Sudan. Both Eggers and Deng have said that they believed the book needed to be written to share and document Deng’s experiences as among the millions dead and displaced by the Sudanese Civil War. Both men were committed to creating a work that would document the culture of Deng’s people, the Dinka.
As Deng talked about his life, Eggers collected vast amounts of material—a couple years’ worth of conversations-- then struggled to organize it in a compelling way, one that didn’t play on scenes of horror and brutality in prurient ways. He considered various titles for the book – one was It Was Just Boys Walking and another was Hello, Children. Those titles, as Eggers has said, suggested a focus on Deng’s experiences during the war and in refugee camps in Ethiopia and in Kenya. But, Eggers has said, eventually neither title seemed right for the book. After all, in Eggers’ words, by the time he and Deng were collaborating, “Valentino had been a man for a long time…and he and the other so-called Lost Boys were tired of being known as boys. The story of Valentino's life would need to be equally, if not more so, about the issues he faced [as a man].” Eggers began to explore ways that the novel/memoir might be crafted to convey questions about Dinka culture and ongoing conflicts in Sudan and Darfur
( http://www.vadfoundation.org/it-was-just-boys-walking/), and, it would seem, the story of Deng’s time in the United States.