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As much as I loved What Is the What, I love more how it sparks Allyson, an ob-gyn, to tell us about her recent trip to Nigeria, the third time she has used her vacation to volunteer there, delivering babies and treating dozens of patients who walk days to get to her. When Allyson read how Deng was overwhelmed by the plenty he encountered in the United States, it reminded her of the way she feels each time she returns here. "I don't go into supermarkets for a week or two after I get back," she tells us. "I made that mistake the first time, and when I got to the cereal aisle, I looked at all those shelves full of boxes, and I started to cry. I had to leave the store."

Every meeting comes to this—to moments drawn from our lives more than the book, to the sorrows and triumphs, big and small, that cement our ties to each other. Only when kids and obligations start calling do we adjourn, sufficiently fortified to last us until the next meeting.


All proceeds from Dave Eggers' What Is the What, the novelized autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, (McSweeney's, $26) go to aiding the Sudanese in America and Sudan through the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation. One project well under way is a secondary school being built in Deng's hometown of Marial Bai. To see what you can do to help—both at home or abroad—go to ValentinoAchakDeng.org and click on the Take Action link.

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