Monday, October 05, 2015

[Memphis Reads 2015] Fresh Reads Top Ten Winner Victor Smith

Meaning of the “What” 
Victor Smith

What is the "What?" The moment Valentino’s (Achak’s) father tells the story of God offering man the cattle and the What, it becomes very clear that the What literally represents the unknown. But metaphorically, the What represents much more. When one chooses the unknown over the known, that act of taking a risk, for better or for worse, defines the What. Metaphorically the What stands for a leap of blind faith. More often than not, man chooses the What over the known. It is in our curious human nature to want to know what is on the other side, what possibilities await us, what change in our lives can result from our decisions.

Thus being said, the What is more than just the embodiment of the unknown. It is also the embodiment of people’s dreams, visions, and hopes, as well as their ruin and failure. In the year 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue chasing the What. The first Apollo missions to the moon launched into space toward the What. In this book, young Achak must constantly wander through Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia, without knowing what lay ahead of his path. That does not change much, even when he arrives in the United States. For Achak, the What either represents survival or death.

Every day, all over the globe, each person has his or her own “What” and “known” to choose between. For everyone, the What means the unknown. But metaphorically, the What can symbolize numerous different things, circumstances, and results. Though some are more serious than others, collectively our Whats give us more reason as a species to keep living and moving forward. So as long as we live, just like the refugees of southern Sudan, we will always be asking ourselves the question, “What is the What?”

I have had to choose several times already between the known and the What, but I will always remember one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made in my life. It may not seem so important at a glance, considering the fact that I was only four years old at the time, but from a broad perspective, it has forever changed my life.

One of the first things people learn about me when we first meet is that I am not from this country. I was born in the small capitol Belmopan in the small country of Belize. It is a former British colony, now overflowing with crime, poverty, and tourists. My mother came to the U.S. long before I did, leaving me with my grandmother for a couple years. When she came back to Belize, she had decided that America was by far a much better place to live. She wanted to go back with me, her only child, but first asked me if I wanted to go, since my father was opposed to it. I had to choose either the known, which was knowing that I did not want to live with my father, or the What, which, in my case, represented the unknown life I would have with my mother in an unknown country. Obviously, I chose the What.  Looking back on my life now, from the moment I left Belize to this day, I don’t regret my decision a bit. The What I chose has positively changed the course of my life and more importantly, is my life.

--Victor Smith

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