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Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Tracy Kidder

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1,030758,227 (4.01)105
Title:Strength in What Remains
Authors:Tracy Kidder
Info:Random House (2009), Edition: First Edition, First Printing., Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:nonfiction, current affairs, Africa, Burundi

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Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder (2009)


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This is the third book by Tracy Kidder I have read, the others being Mountains Beyond Mountains (read 20 Feb 2005) and The Soul of a New Machine (read 1 Oct 2007). The title of this book is taken from words by Wordsworth in Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. It tells of Deo, who was a Burundian and had a horrific time in 1993 avoiding being killed. That account is the most exciting and best part of the book. Deo manages to escape to New York , where he arrives alone, knowing no English and no person. His time in New York seems almost as scary as his time in Burundi, but he is exceptioally lucky in that he is befriended by an ex-nun and a couple she knows. Their beneficial attention to him seems almost surreal but makes one most admratory of them. The account of Deo's trips back to Burundi I found less attention-holding. While Deo is very brainy he does do things which did not strike me as very sensible, though praiseworthy. I thought Kidder's book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, was a better book. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 21, 2015 |
I had no idea what this book was about, or had forgotten if I did, but I like Tracy Kidder so I may have bought it for that reason, I can't remember. I'd had it for quite a while before getting around to reading it. It was a pleasant experience. I really like stories of survival and people who excel against all odds. I also like it when random people cross someone's path and they reach out to help their fellow man out of unselfishness and love. ( )
  shesinplainview | May 10, 2014 |
This was a required book for a class I'm taking. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Through the story of Deogracias I was able to make some sense out of the Hutu-Tutsi uprisings in Burundi and Rawanda. I learned a great deal more about strength of the human spirit and the struggle to understand humanity and in some small way heal and improve the lives of others with the strength that remains after such a traumatic experience.
  Marssie | Mar 2, 2014 |
Deo's tale is a remarkable one, and Kidder's craft is exceptional. If you are a high school teacher looking for nonfiction for your students, this book is an excellent choice. ( )
  sbucker1 | Feb 22, 2014 |
Where are we today at the beginning of the 21st Century? Where are we headed? I have been reading books that focus on ethnic cleansing and genocide. It seems to me there is more and more of this with each year that passes. What does this say about the way the world is run today? How do different books tackle these questions? When The Stars Fall To Earth was very good, albeit simple, but with an important message. It was fiction. It dealt with the problems that continue today in Darfur. I kept thinking, why did I like it so much even if it is simple and fictional, but I did! I liked it because it spoke of today's world and it spoke with clarity.

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness by Tracy Kidder is equally good. This one is biographical. The author lets Deo, a survivor of the Rwandan/Burundi genocide, speak of his experiences. This is non-fiction, but it too speaks with clarity and leaves an important message about the world we live in today. Is there hope? Yes, but the main message from both is that people of the 21st Century must keep themselves informed and must get involved.

Kidder’s book clearly explains both the Rwandan and Burundi genocides. Although they are interrelated and do share some similarities, there are differences too. In both countries poverty, malnutrition and lack of educational opportunities have led to the underlying problems. In both countries Hutus comprise the overwhelming majority of the population, but in Burundi the military and political power was transferred to the Tutsis by first the German and then the Belgian colonial authorities. In Rwanda Hutus were in power. Both countries became independent from Belgium in 1962, and in both countries Belgium failed to prepare the governments for a successful takeover of power. The ethnic differences have been reinforced by the colonial parties. In Rwanda there was a government of the majority fighting against a powerless minority. The Burundi genocide was a prolonged ethnic civil war by a minority government fighting against rebels of the majority.

The chapters flip between those focused on Deo’s personal experiences and the historical details of the war. In addition, Deo’s experiences do not follow a chronological order. I would have preferred that they had. Chronologically you start in the middle, when Deo has just gotten to the US in 1994. He had been in his third year of medical studies in Burundi when he fled from rampage of killings in Burundi to Rwanda, back to Burundi and then to NYC, an immigrant with neither English, money nor even a green card. He went from an inferno to another situation scarcely better, but he survived. Later in the book the author accompanies Deo back to Burundi and Rwanda. He also accompanies Deo to those places he lived in Harlem, the exact sites in Central Park, to Soho and to those who gave him a helping hand. The reader looks at how Deo dealt emotionally and intellectually with his experiences. It all would have been simpler had the events been presented chronologically. That is my one complaint with the book.

The audiobook is narrated by the author clearly, but without any special flair. I have no complaints about the narration.

I liked this book because it clearly explains the details of both the Rwandan and Burundi genocides. Deo comes to work with Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, about which the author has written another book: book:Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World|10235. Here the focus of the book is set on what path we must follow into the future. This I liked too. That is why I picked up the book. Where will the future take us? ( )
  chrissie3 | Jul 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
Mr. Kidder’s prose handles beautifully, but there are places it can’t take you, moral and intellectual territory that remain out of reach... I am being hard, I fear, on a book that I read with great interest.
63-year-old Tracy Kidder may have just written his finest work — indeed, one of the truly stunning books I’ve read this year.
It's hard for the reader to escape the conclusion that Deogratias can live with what happened and build his hospital and do good only by lying to himself about the nature of the recent past.

This raises the chewy problem of why Kidder is telling this story. Is it primarily an inspirational tale of an immigrant-made-good, a repudiation of Lou Dobbs-style bigotry? If so, his book succeeds 10 times over in an uncomplicated way. Or does Kidder believe primarily in the need to record accurately what happened during the darkest moments in human history?

If this is his goal, then he is—subtly, sympathetically—chiding his subject.
added by Shortride | editSlate, Johann Hari (Aug 24, 2009)
Once again Tracy Kidder has written about someone who cares deeply about improving health care for the poorest of the poor. Burundi is a small landlocked country in Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world

Kidder uses Deo’s experiences to deliver a very personal and harrowing account of the ethnic genocide in East Central Africa.
added by khuggard | editBooklist, Vanessa Bush
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to Christopher Henry Kidder
First words
As we drove through southwestern Burundi, I felt as if we were being followed by the mountain called Ganza, the way a child feels followed by the moon.
When he realized he wasn't seeing smoke anymore, he took his face away from the window and felt himself begin to relax, a long-forgotten feeling.
Deo had a lot of experience with bargaining, but the whole idea of soliciting tips was new, and, once he understood it, repugnant. His French-speaking African friend at the store explained. No one could survive in New York on fifteen dollars a day. You had to get tips. You lingered in doorways, you cleared your throat, sometimes you asked for a tip outright. But this was the same as begging, Deo thought.
"Deogratias, thanks be to God" was Latin his mother had learned in church. She had nearly died during his gestation and birth; his name was her thanksgiving.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812977610, Paperback)

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2009: Strength in What Remains is an unlikely story about an unreasonable man. Deo was a young medical student who fled the genocidal civil war in Burundi in 1994 for the uncertainty of New York City. Against absurd odds--he arrived with little money and less English and slept in Central Park while delivering groceries for starvation wages--his own ambition and a few kind New Yorkers led him to Columbia University and, beyond that, to medical school and American citizenship. That his rise followed a familiar immigrant's path to success doesn't make it any less remarkable, but what gives Deo's story its particular power is that becoming an American citizen did not erase his connection to Burundi, in either his memory or his dreams for the future. Writing with the same modest but dogged empathy that made his recent Mountains Beyond Mountains (about Deo's colleague and mentor, Dr. Paul Farmer) a modern classic, Tracy Kidder follows Deo back to Burundi, where he recalls the horrors of his narrow escape from the war and begins to build a medical clinic where none had been before. Deo's terrible journey makes his story a hard one to tell; his tirelessly hopeful but clear-eyed efforts make it a gripping and inspiring one to read. --Tom Nissley

Amazon Exclusive: Tracy Kidder on Strength in What Remains

Strength in What Remains is the story of Deogratias, a young man from the central African nation of Burundi. In 1993, through no fault of his own, he was forced onto a terrifying journey, a journey that split his life in two. First he made a six-months-long escape, on foot, from ethnic violence in Burundi and from genocide in Rwanda. Then, in a strange twist of fate, he was, as it were, transported to New York City, where it sometimes seemed that his travails had only just begun.

I met Deo by chance 6 years ago. When I first heard his story, I had one simple thought: I would not have survived. I hoped in part to reproduce that feeling as I retold his story. I also hoped to humanize what, to most westerners anyway, is a mysterious, little-known part of the world. We hear about mass slaughter in distant countries and we imagine that murder and mayhem define those locales. Deo’s story opens up one of those places into a comprehensible landscape—and also opens up a part of New York that is designed to be invisible, the service entrances of the upper East Side, the camping sites that homeless people use in Central Park. But above all, I think, this is a book about coming to terms with memories. How can a person deal with memories like Deo’s, tormenting memories, memories with a distinctly ungovernable quality?

In the first part of Strength In What Remains, I recount Deo’s story. In the second part, I tell about going back with him to the stations of his life, in New York and Burundi. So the story that I tell isn’t only about the memories that Deo related to me. It’s also about seeing him overtaken by memories—again and again, and sometimes acutely. But Deo didn’t take me to Burundi just to show me around. Giving me a tour of his past was incidental to what he was up to in the present and the future. His story has a denoument that even now amazes me.

Deo is an American citizen. He doesn’t have to go back to Burundi. But he has returned continually and keeps on returning, and, amid the postwar wreckage, with the help of friends and family, he has created a clinic and public health system, free to those who can’t pay, in a rural village—part of a beginning, Deo dreams, of a new Burundi.

This facility was a pile of rocks when I visited the site in the summer of 2006. By the fall of 2008, it had become a medical center with several new buildings, a trained professional staff, and a fully stocked pharmacy. In its first year of operation it treated 21,000 different patients. (The organization that Deo founded and that sponsors and operates this facility is called Village Health Works.)

Deo was very young when he went through his long travail. Several strangers helped to save him from death and despair in Burundi and New York. So did sheer courage and pluck, and also Columbia University, which he attended as an undergraduate. But when it’s come to dealing with the burden of his memories, the public health system and clinic that he founded has been the nearest thing to a solution. In the end, it’s neither forgetting the past nor dwelling on the past that has worked for him. For him the answer has been remembering and acting. I once asked Deo why he had studied philosophy at Columbia. He told me, "I wanted to understand what had happened to me." In the end, he received what most students of philosophy receive—not answers, but more questions. As I was trying to describe his effort to build a clinic, I found myself writing: "Deo had discovered a way to quiet the questions he’d been asking at Columbia. That is, he saw there might be an answer for what troubled him most about the world, an answer that lay in his hands, indeed in his memory. You had to do something."—Tracy Kidder

(Photo © Gabriel Amadeus Cooney)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder returns with the extraordinary true story of Deo, a young man who arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. After surviving a civil war and genocide, he ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores until he begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing.… (more)

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