What is the What

What is the What Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters XV-XVIII

Summary of Book II, Chapter XV

Book II begins with Achor Achor finally returning home from his girlfriend's home. He unties Valentino and suggests that Valentino report the robbery and assault to the police. Valentino is hesitant, though, as he is wary of the police in the United States. Since arriving in the United States, Valentino has had trouble with car accidents and minor driving infractions. One time, a cop pulled Valentino over for an expired license plate and threatened to take Valentino to jail. He let Valentino off with a warning, but he made his benevolence sound as though it was a great inconvenience to him.

The two eventually called the police, and a woman came to follow up on the call. She was disinterested until the men mentioned they were from Sudan. Then, the cop was suddenly intrigued by their story because she had heard about the problems in Darfur. Achor Achor and Valentino tried to explain how the two incidents were not related, but the cop did not seem to care about the difference. Valentino mentioned that the people in Darfur were mostly Muslim, and many of them were part of the murahaleen that murdered the Dinka.

The cop closes her notebook, and Valentino notices that it is mostly empty. He knows the call was futile, and he has stopped caring. Achor Achor drives him to the hospital to check on his wounds.

Summary of Book II, Chapter XVI

As it was the first time Valentino had been to a hospital in Atlanta, he is surprised that they have to wait for four hours. He is worried that it is because he does not have health insurance. Julian, the receptionists, assures him that not having insurance is not the issue.

While in the waiting area, Valentino begins thinking about Tabitha. Once in Seattle, she started dating a Sudanese man. She complained to Valentino, though, that he was abusive and wanted Tabitha to be submissive like other Sudanese women. She and Valentino began to fall in love again, and Tabitha eventually moved to Atlanta to be with him. Her ex called Valentino and began complaining about Tabitha and how willful and sexually active she was. He even said that Tabitha aborted his child without his consent. Valentino did not care, though.

Summary of Book II, Chapter XVII

Back in Ethiopia, Valentino and the other boys are having a difficult time coming to terms with their disappointment. While life is more secure in the Pinyudo camp, there is an increasing lack of food as more and more people seek refuge from the civil war. While trying to fish for food, Valentino meets Achor Achor who shows him how to do it correctly. Valentino was then put in charge of eleven boys with Achor Achor as his second in command. Valentino is also put on burial duty in the camp.

Valentino is later reunited with his childhood friend Moses. Also, a white man came to the camp. Valentino had never seen a white man before, and the white skin baffled him. He asked the priest who the white man was and why he was at the camp, and the priest said that white people are closer descendants of Adam and Eve and are therefore more knowledgeable and holy. Them being in the camp had to be a good thing for everyone.

Summary of Book II, Chapter XVIII

The hospital still has Valentino waiting for treatment, and he begins wishing Tabitha were with him. He wants a chance to talk to her after she sent three conflicting emails within a week. He believes Tabitha likes to be chased, and she will try to be wishy-washy to get him to keep pursuing her.

When Valentino is 10 years old after a few months at Pinyudo, the leaders finally opened schools. A group of sisters were the first girls to be introduced into the classroom, and all the boys instantly wanted their attention. Valentino decided to use a different tactic, which was to work hard and impress them with his intellect. He succeeds, and the girls invite him to their home. They played games and showed each other their genitalia. Valentino was worried they would be confused because he was uncircumcised, but the group remained friends.


Dealing with the police in America has been difficult for Valentino. He has had multiple interactions with them since immigrating to the United States. The cop who stopped him treated Valentino like a child while having an inflated sense of self-importance when he let Valentino off with a warning. The cop who visited his house was not there to be positive or helpful, either. She refused to take the robbery seriously and was more interested in Darfur than doing her job.

These law enforcement officers are different than what Valentino is used to encountering back in Africa. Valentino was used to soldiers from either side of the conflict, and they were violent. Not only has his experienced caused Valentino to mistrust law enforcement and military, but it paints a portrait showing these authority figures as unhelpful and combative.

Tabitha as a character represents the American way of life, something that many Sudanese characters cannot understand. She is independent and in charge of her sexual agency, and while she loves Valentino, there is a certain level of aloofness to her actions. This comes as a stark contrast to how Valentino describes traditional Sudanese women. Like his mother was, these women were submissive to their spouses. Tabitha, though, has angered her ex boyfriend by not sticking to traditional cultural and gender roles. Her ex refuses to believe that Sudanese women are allowed the same freedom and opportunities of independence as American women.

Having Valentino see hi first white person is an interesting experience. He is extremely curious as many of the people in the camp are. Yet hearing the priest explain the man's presence is troubling as it signals internalized racism. By saying that the white man is closer to God and is more holy, he is upholding the problematic standard that white skin is somehow more desirable and more important than dark skin. This is a belief perpetuated by many white people and oftentimes becomes so ingrained in people of color that it caused many to view their own skin as a negative attribute.

As childhood is one of the themes of What is the What, Eggers shows that Valentino was still just a child while he was dealing with hunger and poverty while in the camps. One story that exemplifies this theme is playing with the sisters. As Valentino is only around ten years old, he is starting to enter puberty just like the girls. As soon-to-be teenagers, they are interested in sexual anatomy. The game where they display their sexual organs to each other is not told in a lewd way, but more as children trying to see and understand what makes them different.