Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How Blessed Are We to Have Each Other?

I've finished with the book, but the story won't end for a long while. I would be lucky to ever in my life pen a single page of a story so eloquently told as that of the story of Valentino Achak Deng in "What is the What." There are not many opportunities in ones life to read or hear a story of such life-affirming compassion, bravery, truthfullness and humor. It is astounding to me that a person can live through such adversity, see the amount of violence and death as Valentino saw in his childhood and still emerge a humorous, trusting, and compassionate adult who only wants to create a stable life for himself in the United States.

After being driven from his home in Southern Sudan by government soldiers and arab raiders, then chased again from a refugee camp in Ethiopia by rebel forces, and finally settling in a dusty, inhospitable camp in Kenya, he manages to create hope for himself in the midst of it all. No matter where he was or what he was running from, there was always a hope, no matter how naive, that wherever he was going was going to be different, was going to be better. And he always preserved the hope that he would one day return home to his family, even if he had no idea they were still alive. After spending nearly a decade in Kenya he was relocated to the US with thousands of other Lost Boys, to learn how to find his way in a new and completely unkown and terrifying world.

If anything, Valentino's story has shown me that above all else, after life's struggles and tribulations, that no matter what difficulties we face in life, we must always have compassion for one another, a sense of humor and a love of life. One of the last lines of the novel, one that will always stay with me because of the love that still manages to shine in Valentino's heart, says: "It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength to know that you are there. I covet your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us. How blessed are we to have each other?" We are each of us very blessed, Valentino. Thank you.

P.S. If anyone is interested in learning more about Valentino Achak Deng, his foundation, and his work to improve the lives of his fellow countrymen both here and at home in Southern Sudan, please visit www.valentinoachakdeng.com
All proceeds from the sale of "What is the What" go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, so please, buy the book!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Were do stories come from?

So in my last post I was lamenting a bit about trying to write, and write successfully, and create something out of the mash of personal experiences, current affairs, historical themes and random ideas bubbling around in your head. I guess I look up to people like Dave Eggars, who seem to be able to so effortlessly craft a tale with his imagination. I know from working on stories myself and hearing authors first hand speak about how hard they work on just a draft of a story, that my impression of the process being "effortless" is a bit flawed. However, I can not ever stop seeing my own shortfalls in comparison to more prolific (and published) writers.

Dave Eggars' novel "What is the What" is a particualrly good example of this. After hearing the story of Valentino Achek Deng, he created a marginally fictionalized version of the tale, putting his own masterfull touch on it, making the words weep on the page. It is the paticular ability to do this that I envy; that characters, places and events stand out and move so clearly, that the world that is created becomes so brilliantly real for a short time.

What is the What is an unrelentingly harsh story of the survival of one of Sudans Lost Boys. Eggars tells of how all of the Lost Boys, after being driven from their homes by war, walk through the deserts of Sudan and Ethiopia, constantly chased and attacked by the army, and finally ending up in a refugee camp in Kenya. This is when current events begin to tie into the story. While living in Kenya, the refugees hear of terrorist attacks on American embassies in Kenya and the first bombing of the World Trade Center. The lost boys, who have never known a world outside of Sudan, do not know what all of this means, but they are assured that with America's bombing of Sudans capital, their return home will be imminent.

The story is told by Valentino in present day Atlanta, struggling to find his place in America, while re-telling the story of his childhood and his eventual move to the US. Eggars words, while recrafting Valentino's words, are beautiful in their simplicity. There is no need to embellish or use word games to trap the reader. The story itself, Valentino's story, is so compelling and real that it could never be all fiction. I can only hope to one day create something so beautiful.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How to write a book

So I have been working on stories, long and short, some hoping to someday make it into a full-blown novel. I have been writing, fairly inconsistently, but putting words to paper none the less. There comes a point when you start second guessing yourself while you are putting together a story, and wonder if this is the right story for you to be writing. What I mean is, is the material, the subject, the world you are trying to create may not be one you have the personality or knowledge to write well. I am currently trying to write a Noir novel, a novel with murder, betrayal, and no clear delineation between good and evil. I know the genre, but I am no expert. I question if my limited experience in this type of story is going to be enough to provide me with enough to write, and whether any of it will be any good.

I guess any writer probably doubts themselves, even John Irving had to wonder if anyone would like his books. Some people say that you should write what you know; that your life experience will provide you with the best stories. Others might say that as long as your creative juices can cook it up, write it. The biggest test is whether or not people will read it and appreciate it, and enjoy the stories you tell. Maybe I am being a bit ambitions with a Noir novel, but it is a fun genre and alot of fun to write. Maybe I should write what I know, write from the experiences of my life; I know I have plenty of those stories to tell.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Something Quick

Just want to drop down a quick few lines. I have been out for a couple of weeks, and need to get some fresh material up. So going back to the saga of Valentino Achek Deng, there are not words to describe just how unbearably easy life is for anyone who has had the good fortune to spend their childhood in the United States. I say this after comparing the average life of an American child to that of any one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who endured more atrcities and horrors before their sixteenth birthdays than any ten American children will experience in their lifetimes.

The sad thing is that so few of us understand or will ever understand the lives of these children, and what it took for them to stay alive and manage to get themselves out of Africa. And when they did get themselves to America, attempting to setting into anything resembling a normal life seemed to be just another roadblock on the way to happiness. At one point, Valentino says that, despite everything he went through in Sudan and Ethiopia, he at times wished he was back there, instead of dealing with the uncomfortable realities of life in America. How could that be? There are no lions hunting you, no armies trying to gun you down. I guess home is always home, even when you have to run away from it.