In 2008, One Book, One Philadelphia chose a featured title and two companion titles to explore the topic of violence in the world and within our own city.

Featured Book

What Is the What - book cover

What is the What, by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's; 2006) – In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Dave Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life story as he is driven from his childhood home as a young boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia, where he finds safety—for a time. Valentino's travels, truly Biblical in scope, bring him in contact with government soldiers, Janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation—and a string of unexpected romances. Ultimately, Valentino finds safety in Kenya and, just after the arrival of the new millennium, is finally resettled in the United States, from where What is the What is narrated. In this book, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenges faced by one indomitable man in a world collapsing around him.

Companion Books

Brothers in Hope - book cover

Brothers In Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, by Mary Williams (Lee & Low Books; 2005, Grades 3-5) – Eight-year-old Garang is tending cattle far from his family's home in southern Sudan when war comes to his village. Frightened but unharmed, he returns to find that everything has been destroyed. Soon Garang meets other boys whose villages have been attacked. Before long they become a moving band of thousands, walking hundreds of miles seeking safety—first in Ethiopia and then in Kenya. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep alive the hope of finding a new home. Based on heartbreaking yet inspirational true events in the lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Brothers in Hope is a story of remarkable and enduring courage, and an amazing testament to the unyielding power of the human spirit.

Of Beetles and Angels - book cover

Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy's Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard, by Mawi Asgedom (Little, Brown and Company; 2002, Grades 6-9) – Of Beetles and Angels tells the unforgettable true story of a young boy's remarkable journey from a refugee camp in Sudan to an affluent Chicago suburb, where his family survived on welfare. Following his father's advice to "treat all people—even the most unsightly beetles—as though they were angels sent from heaven," Mawi Asgedom overcame racial prejudice, language barriers, and financial disadvantage, to eventually realize his dream of a full-tuition scholarship to Harvard University. Of Beetles and Angels is a compelling survival story sure to inspire readers of all ages and backgrounds.