What is the What

What is the What Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters VII-X

Summary of Book I, Chapter VII

Valentino tries to get Michaels' attention, but the boy is wary of Valentino talking to him. It is clear through phone conversations, though, that Michael is upset about being left alone with a hostage. When Valentino tries to speak with Michael again, Michael builds a makeshift fort around Valentino so Valentino cannot watch him from the living room.

Valentino drifts back to the first days of the war. When he was six or seven years old, he was helping his mother when planes flew overhead. His mother grabbed Valentino and pulled him inside right as bullets hit the ground. Thirty men died in total from that attack. Government soldiers arrived the next day and burned Marial Bai down in retribution for the SPLA soldiers and their acts. It was ironic, though, because none of the SPLA soldiers were in Marial Bai during the attack.

Summary of Book I, Chapter VIII

Deng Arou decides that it is best that his family leaves Marial Bai and moves to Aweil, a nearby city. He is going to set up a new shop in Aweil, but he only brings two wives and seven children, including Valentino. However, Valentino's mother was not selected to move. She was angry with this, but she did not say anything to Deng.

In Aweil, Deng is taken into police custody and interrogated by the soldiers. They are interrogating all the Dinka for possible involvement in rebel activity. Deng is released, but he immediately moves back to Marial Bai after the soldiers kill his friend Bol Dut. They return to find their original city mostly burned to the ground.

William K greets Valentino, and he tells Valentino that government soldiers killed his brother Joseph.

Summary of Book I, Chapter IX

A week later, Valentino is helping his mother outside their home when they hear horses hoofs in the distance. They two run and hide in the nearby tall grass. A horde of Arab militia soldiers, the murahaleen, stream into Marial Bai and start shooting villagers at random. The two almost get killed by a soldier, but he accidentally slips and shoots his horse instead.

As Valentino and his mother make it into a grain shed, they hear a scream of one of his mother's friends. She leaves Valentino to go help, but she does not return. Valentino heads to a church, the place he feels will be safest. From here, he can see the soldiers massacre the villagers. He even sees his friend Moses trying to shake his mother's body.

Later that night, Valentino runs into the woods. A couple soldiers hear him, but he hides still for hours until he feels safe again. The next morning, a group of Dinkas picks Valentino up and bring him along on their journey to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. They tell Valentino that his father is dead. The group is attacked by the murahaleen, and Valentino is able to escape.

He continues running through villages, knowing that he is never safe. People are unable to escape the country by plane, and the only way to stay alive is to stay on the run.

Summary of Book I, Chapter X

Back in the present day, Valentino is still bound while Michael rummages through his apartment. He hears the boy opening drawers in his bedroom and knows that Michael has discovered his pictures of Tabitha.

Valentino met Tabitha while at the camp in Kakuma. They both took a Home Economics class, and Valentino was smitten with her almost instantly. Tabitha was the type of girl everyone loved, but she was fortunate enough to have a mother who did force her to marry young. Instead, Tabitha was able to focus on her education and made it to America and lived in Seattle with her family. Valentino and Tabitha still had an emotional connection, though, and they got in touch when Valentino came to the United States.

Valentino tries calling out to Michael again, but the boy still ignores him. He continues with his life story, saying that he met Dut Majok leading a group of about thirty boys. Dut invites Valentino to walk with them to Bilpam. Dut has become the sole emotional support for the group, and he gives Valentino a talk in order to lift his spirits.

It is in this group that Valentino met Deng. While his village was under attack, he stuffed himself in a locker and hid for a long time. He kept defecating, so when the Arab soldiers opened the locker, they were hit with a terrible smell that deterred them from looking further.

The group eventually made it to a village, and an elder took pity on them and gave them food and shelter. That night, Deng tries to explain the war to Valentino, but Valentino does not know about the government or geography to fully understand the situation. One of the Dinka rebels from the first civil war continued his mission and put together the SPLA in Ethiopia. This group then started trying to change the Sudanese government, which angered the Muslim leaders. The leaders then enlisted thousands of countrymen to fight against the Dinka in exchange for the Dinka's land.


What is the What uses storytelling as a theme to seamlessly convey what Deng went through and his difficult life experiences. Eggers uses it as a strategic device as a way to explain to the reader about the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Michael represents the American readers. Americans are willingly ignorant of what happens in other parts of the world. They turn a blind eye to other countries' struggles and do not want to be inconvenienced with war and other atrocities. When Michael strategically blocks his view of the beaten and bound Valentino on the floor, it carries the same imagery of how Americans will do everything they can to focus on their own lives and not have to notice the suffering of others.

A large part of this novel is how Valentino and other Sudanese immigrants deal with the culture shock after moving to America. To do that effectively later in the novel, Eggers has to explain certain aspects of Sudanese and Dinka culture in order for the readers to better understand the immigrants' shock.

When Deng Arou makes decisions about which members of his family to take, he has essentially made a decision about which family he wants to live and which family he wants to leave behind to possibly die. But even though Valentino's mother is upset with the decision, she knows not to air her grievances.

Also, Tabitha's mother choosing education over marriage for her daughter is an option that not many women had in Sudan. This allowed Tabitha to be well educated. Tabitha was the exception to the rule, though. This will become more prominent in the later chapters of the novel, as male Sudanese immigrants who were used to docile and subservient women will find it difficult to date American women, as they are too independent.