There was a sense in both of these books that Eggers was in danger of disappearing up his own irony. However much he wanted to care, his literary defence mechanisms and his slightly uncomfortable celebrity placed him at several removes from the world. It is easy to see how meeting Valentino Achak Deng might represent a way out of that dead-end. By adopting Achak’s voice, Eggers could play it entirely straight without losing credibility. He could do away with smartness and ennui, the apparatus of self-promotion and self-deprecation. He could tell a heartbreaking tale and not bother with the staggering genius.
Often, in its catalogue of horror, What Is the What has the starkness – and style – of a Human Rights Watch report. Eggers frames Achak’s story with the brutal reality of his life in America (which may or may not be factual). Much of the ‘Lost Boy’s’ biography is replayed in his head while he lies bound and gagged on the floor of his Atlanta apartment, which is being ransacked by burglars; having fought so long and hard for his American identity, he is mute and referred to by the gangsters simply as ‘Africa’.
more from The Guardian here.