I just finished Dave Eggers’ latest, a fictionalized account of one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys,” Valentino Achak Deng.

(Aside: Does anyone want to go to a reading by Zadie Smith — with cameos by Vendela Vida and Maggie Gyllenhall — on Jan. 16? It’s a benefit for Eggers’ nonprofit, 826NYC, which offers writing support to kids and teens.)

And I loved it. For a lot of reasons; first and foremost, it’s just a compelling story with just about every dramatic element out there — war, violence, love, faith, politics, great evil and tremendous good. But it’s more than that, so much more. It challenged the way the mainstream media reported the story of the displaced. It captured the ambiguities surrounding international aid and its utility. It reflected the frustrating curse of relative wealth, the way in which every struggle abets a new struggle, and the universal difficulty of puzzling out an identity in a constantly changing world. Above all, it offered a bleak sense of hope and affirmed the power of connecting, simply connecting, to those around us, even when we’re hurt, even when we’re broken.

While I was reading it, my thoughts inevitably turned to the unrest in Kenya, the country in which many of the displaced Sudanese (and Somalis, and Burundians, and Ethiopians …) settled. I don’t even know how to begin unpacking my thoughts; what does the situation in what is considered one of Africa’s beacons of light mean for the continent? Is it fair to even pose that question, with my meager American knowledge of life there, societies there? What next? What now?

Violence in the tea-growing region of Kenya, just another piece of the country’s election-fallout story: “Kenya’s tea city Kericho hit by tribal violence” (Telegraph)

Excellent op-ed in the Times today, “Putting a Plague in Perspective,” by Daniel Halperin (a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and the 2005-06 HIV prevention adviser in southern Africa for USAID) — Halperin marshals an argument that by focusing on funding AIDS projects in Africa, rather than wider public health concerns to address problems such as inadequate access to safe water. He writes:

“Many millions of African children and adults die of malnutrition, pneumonia, motor vehicle accidents and other largely preventable, if not headline-grabbing, conditions. One-fifth of all global deaths from diarrhea occur in just three African countries — Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria — that have relatively low H.I.V. prevalence. Yet this condition, which is not particularly difficult to cure or prevent, gets scant attention from the donors that invest nearly $1 billion annually on AIDS programs in those countries.

I was struck by this discrepancy between Western donors’ priorities and the real needs of Africans last month, during my most recent trip to Africa. In Senegal, H.I.V. rates remain under 1 percent in adults, partly due to that country’s early adoption of enlightened policies toward prostitution and other risky practices, in addition to universal male circumcision, which limits the heterosexual spread of H.I.V. Rates of tuberculosis, now another favored disease of international donors, are also relatively low in Senegal, and I learned that even malaria, the donors’ third major concern, is not quite as rampant as was assumed, with new testing finding that many fevers aren’t actually caused by the disease.”