Dave Eggers‘ hybridized work of biography/fiction is long and exhausting, not unlike the story it tells of Lost Boy Valentino Achak Deng as he travels from Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya and eventually to Atlanta, Georgia. At the same time– and in a similar way– it is also depressing and hopeful, simultaneously. Eggers’ considerable gifts as a writer– particularly in spare, vivid description and his long, skeletonized sections of dialogue– make this a story in which I lost myself. And the time-shifting storytelling device he uses is brilliant and heart-rendingly effective.
In the end, this is not a sensational story, though the elements for such a telling are surely there. It’s not a story that elicits some overwhelming reader response (though the fact that all proceeds from the book benefit Sudanese citizens and refugees means that we’re already involved in the cause). No, this is an empathetic telling, where the reader so identifies with the subject that one is able to feel the crushing disappointment, overwhelming fatigue, inexplainable hope, and inspiring determination found therein. It honors the spirit and the life of Deng, thwarting any tendency we might feel toward pity, and challenging us to listen to and know the people that we meet every day.