Culture: What is the What (Le Grand Quoi) by Dave Eggers – An Ode to African Immigrants in the U.S.

During my interesting college years, one professor used to say that we were all immigrants (or should I say emigrants?)  He argued that an emigrant being a person escaping from something or someone, each human being is trying to escape.  Some are fleeing wars, hunger and poverty in their native countries.  Others are running away from responsibility, battered family life, physical abuse, violence or reality.   Some immigrate to another country; others immigrate to a different state of mind.  However, the most distinctive characteristic of any immigrant would be that we never feel at home anywhere.  We remain foreigners deep down, forever nomads in search of complete relief…


I am always biased when it comes to generalization, and would not go as far as to say that every single human being feels the need to escape.  However, the professor’s words never left my mind and when I started reading Dave Eggers’ novel “What is the What”, the words echoed some of my feelings as an African immigrant to the U.S.  Unlike the main character Valentino Acha Deng, I did not run away from war, though many had to escape the country to save their lives.  I was asked to leave to advance my education and make a ‘better’ life for my family and myself.  Like Acha Deng, I have often wondered where in the world I landed, and have asked myself numerous times if I am indeed better off here than where I grew up.

I will confess that I purchased the book three years ago but have never had the heart to finish it because it felt too personal.  You see, when I read a novel or watch a movie, I want to escape from reality completely…oh wait, we all do…was the professor right after all? Of course not! 🙂 🙂  This is one reason why I have not been able to watch Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” since I have been in the U.S.  If I were to be honest, I would admit that I never liked the movie back home because I could not fathom why a prince would come to this country and work for a fast food chain simply to get a woman.  I know, he did it all for love…sure 🙂

Regardless, I feel ready to get back to “What is the What” and complete its reading.  If you get the opportunity to read the book, or if you’ve read it already, please let me know your opinion on the subject!  Maybe I will muster enough courage to rent “Coming to America” and watch it again, for good time’s sake…hmmm maybe not; I have never been a fan of Eddie Murphy anyway.

Let’s end this post with a quote from Roosevelt:

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

* What is the What is entitled Le Grand Quoi in French.