10 May 2007
Met the Author: Valentino Achak Deng
Champlain's Community Book for 07-08 is Dave Egger's (of McSweeny's fame) novelization of the life of Valentino Achak Deng in "What is the What".
I joined members of the Community Book Committee, that's them, smiling at you, for a talk by Valentino. We will be having Dave Eggers at the college in the Fall so it was sheer luck that Valentino was in Vermont and we were able to catch him.
Valentino was incredible. Many people complain that the Community Book is often depressing. I feel like those people need to reexamine the books we've chosen and "What is the What" is a fine place to start. The true story of Valentino's journey at the age of 5 from his home in ravaged Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, his experience is indeed awful. Awful isn't even the right word for it. There are no words for it.
Doubly so, words cannot express the admiration one must feel for Valentino's, and the thousands of other Lost Boys, strength, perseverence, faith, and hope. Valentino's ability to share his experience with others, his ability to learn from the horrors he has experienced, and his ability to "let go," as he says, of the bitterness he could feel is extraordinary. He talked about letting go of this hate, this bitterness, or else he can never move forward. What is the point?, he asks? What is the what that he would hold onto?
Champlain's website for the Community Book will be up soon and I'll link to it then. But we are trying to balance the need to make our student's aware of the genocide in Sudan and teach them they need to care and to act with the incredible journey one man made, in the world and in himself, to realize what is important to him. Students, we hope, will realize that is a journey we all must make to become ourselves. Many of us will never experience as difficult a journey as Valentino but these journeys aren't easy for any of us. And Valentino's message is not to feel bad for him or to compare his journey to ours. But rather to see that we can not just survive but thrive, no matter what. I can't wait to help students see that when we read the book together as a campus in the fall.