When not driving exotic six-cylindered machinery, Guillermo tends to kill the long European winter evenings with reading. Just last week, he finished “What’s the What – The autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng” by Dave Eggers.
He had found the first half of the book to be close to brilliant. Alternating between memories of Achak, the main character’s childhood and youth in Africa, and a present time perspective ordeal he was dealing with in the United States, worked very well. Both the flash backs and the present time point of view scenes showed violence rearing its ugly head. Be it under very different circumstances and wearing different faces.
Reading through that first part of the novel, Guillermo got the distinctive impression that violence was everywhere; in all kinds of shapes and colors. And that it’s head was, invariably, an ugly one.
Eggers also proved to be a master in chopping a storyline up in just the perfect phrases. Not too short, yet not overbearingly complicated. With the right imagery thrown in at exactly the correct spot. Resulting in a novel with a very compelling rhythm.
It all made for a thrilling and fascinating read.
Then, somewhere past half way into the book, all that disappeared. And the focus seemed to shift entirely to the challenges of Achak’s earlier life in Africa. Guillermo could not pinpoint exactly why, but he had experienced the read as going somewhat dull from there on.
Strangely enough, the dwindling of the excitement seemed to coincide with a turn for the better of Achak’s life circumstances. As if human kind had gotten to a point where only misery and violence could capture our imagination. And happiness was perceived as just dull day-to-day reality.
“Has all our wealth really made us that cynical?” Guillermo had wondered.
The last chapter did a rather good job at bringing some of the initial magic back. But the level of the first half was never quiet reached again.
Finally, it was only a few days after having finished the book that Guillermo figured out what really spoiled the strong opening effort. It was the lack of proper closure to the story. Some days after having finished the book, Guillermo even reread the last chapter. He felt unsure about really having made it to the end. And needed to reassure himself that he had effectively done so.
But even the second reading of the last chapter left him with a sense that the novel was unfinished business. The lack of clear, clean-cut closure was the culprit. And that, in Guillermo’s opinion, marred the initial excitement for the novel.