Strength in What Remains

Strength in What Remains

by Tracy Kidder


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Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle Chicago Tribune • The Christian Science Monitor • Publishers Weekly

In Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder gives us the story of one man’s inspiring American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him, providing brilliant testament to the power of second chances. Deo arrives in the United States from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo 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. Kidder breaks new ground in telling this unforgettable story as he travels with Deo back over a turbulent life and shows us what it means to be fully human.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Named one of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books of the year by Time • Named one of the year’s “10 Terrific Reads” by O: The Oprah Magazine

“Extraordinarily stirring . . . a miracle of human courage.”The Washington Post

“Absorbing . . . a story about survival, about perseverance and sometimes uncanny luck in the face of hell on earth. . . . It is just as notably about profound human kindness.”The New York Times

“Important and beautiful . . . This book is one you won’t forget.”—Portland Oregonian

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812977615
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/04/2010
Series: Random House Reader's Circle
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 118,109
Product dimensions: 5.28(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About the Author

Tracy Kidder graduated from Harvard and studied at the University of Iowa. He has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes. The author of Mountains Beyond Mountains, My Detachment, Home Town, Old Friends, Among Schoolchildren, House, and The Soul of a New Machine, Kidder lives in Massachusetts and Maine.

Read an Excerpt

Part One, Flights  
Chapter One

Bujumbura-NewYork, May 1994  

On the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura, there is a small international airport. It has a modern terminal with intricate roofs and domed metal structures that resemble astronomical observatories. It is the kind of terminal that seems designed to say that here you leave the past behind, the future has arrived, behold the wonders of aviation. But in Burundi in 1994, for the lucky few with tickets, an airplane was just the fastest, safest way out. It was flight.

  In the spring of that year, violence and chaos governed Burundi. To the west, the hills above Bujumbura were burning. Smoke seemed to be pouring off the hills, as the winds of mid-May carried the plumes of smoke downward in undulating sheets, in the general direction of the airport. A large passenger jet was parked on the tarmac, and a disordered crowd was heading toward it in sweaty haste. Deo felt as if he were being carried by the crowd, immersed in an unfamiliar river. The faces around him were mostly white, and though many were black or brown, there was no one whom he recognized, and so far as he could tell there were no country people. As a little boy, he had crouched behind rocks or under trees the first times he'd seen airplanes passing overhead. He had never been so close to a plane before. Except for buildings in the capital, this was the largest man-made thing he'd ever seen. He mounted the staircase quickly. Only when he had entered the plane did he let himself look back, staring from inside the doorway as if from a hiding place again.   In Deo's mind, there was danger everywhere. If his heightened sense of drama was an inborn trait, it had certainly been nourished. For months every situation had in fact been dangerous. Climbing the stairs a moment before, he had imagined a voice in his head telling him not to leave. But now he stared at the hills and he imagined that everything in Burundi was burning. Burundi had become hell. He finally turned away, and stepped inside. In front of him were cushioned chairs with clean white cloths draped over their backs, chairs in perfect rows with little windows on the ends. This was the most nicely appointed room he'd ever seen. It looked like paradise compared to everything outside. If it was real, it couldn't last.  

The plane was packed, but he felt entirely alone. He had a seat by a window. Something told him not to look out, and something told him to look. He did both. His hands were shaking. He felt he was about to vomit. Everyone had heard stories of planes being shot down, not only the Rwandan president's plane back in April but others as well. He was waiting for this to happen after the plane took off. For several long minutes, whenever he glanced out the window all he saw was smoke. When the air cleared and he could see the landscape below, he realized that they must already have crossed the Akanyaru River, which meant they had left Burundi and were now above Rwanda. He had crossed a lot of the land down there on foot. It wasn't all that small. To see it transformed into a tiny piece of time and space-this could only happen in a dream.  

He gazed down, face pressed against the windowpane. Plumes of smoke were also rising from the ground of what he took to be Rwanda-if anything, more smoke than around Bujumbura. A lot of it was coming from the banks of muddy-looking rivers. He thought, "People are being slaughtered down there." But those sights didn't last long. 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.  

He liked the cushioned chair. He liked the sensation of flight. How wonderful to travel in an easy chair instead of on foot. He began to realize how constricted his intestines and stomach had felt, as if wound into knots for months on end, as the tightness seeped away. Maybe the worst was over now, or maybe he was just in shock. "I don't really know where I'm going," he thought. But if there was to be no end to this trip, that would be all right. A memory from world history class surfaced. Maybe he was like that man who got lost and discovered America. He craned his neck and looked upward through the window. There was nothing but darkening blue. He looked down and realized just how high above the ground he was seated. "Imagine if this plane crashes," he thought. "That would be awful." Then he said to himself, "I don't care. It would be a good death."  

For the moment, he was content with that thought, and with everything around him. The only slightly troubling thing was the absence of French in the cabin. He knew for a fact-he'd been taught it was so since elementary school-that French was the universal language, and universal because it was the best of all languages. He knew Russians owned this plane. Only Aeroflot, he'd been told,  was still offering commercial flights from Bujumbura. So it wasn't strange that all the signs in the cabin were in a foreign script. But he couldn't find a single word written in French, even on the various cards in the seat pocket.  

The plane landed in Entebbe, in Uganda. As he waited in the terminal for his next flight, Deo watched what looked like a big family make a fuss over a young man about his age, a fellow passenger as it turned out. When the flight started to board, the whole bunch around this boy began weeping and wailing. The young man was wiping tears from his eyes as he walked toward the plane. Probably he was just going away on a trip. Probably he would be coming back soon. In his mind, Deo spoke to the young man: "You are in tears. For what? Here you have this huge crowd of family." He felt surprised, as if by a distant memory, that there were, after all, many small reasons for people to cry. His own mind kept moving from one extreme to another. Everything was a crisis, and nothing that wasn't a crisis mattered. He thought that if he were as lucky as that boy and still had that much family left, he wouldn't be crying. For that matter, be wouldn't be boarding airplanes, leaving his country behind.  

Deo had grown up barefoot in Burundi, but for a peasant boy he had done well. He was twenty-four. Until recently he had been a medical student, for three years at or near the top of his class. In his old faux-leather suitcase, which he had reluctantly turned over to the baggage handler in the airport in Bujumbura, he had packed some of the evidence of his success: the French dictionary that elementary school teachers gave only to prized students, and the general clinical text and one of the stethoscopes that he had saved up to buy. But he had spent the past six months on the run, first from the eruption of violence in Burundi, then from the slaughter in Rwanda.  

In geography class in school, Deo had learned that the most important parts of the world were France and Burundi's colonial master, Belgium. When someone he knew, usually a priest, was going abroad, that person was said to be going to "Iburaya." And while this usually meant Belgium or France, it could also mean any place that was far away and hard to imagine. Deo was heading for Iburaya. In this case, that meant New York City.  

He had one wealthy friend who had seen more of the world than East Central Africa, a fellow medical student named Jean. And it was Jean who had decided that New York was where he should go. Deo was traveling on a commercial visa. Jean's French father had written a letter identifying Deo as an employee on a mission to America. He was supposed to be going to New York to sell coffee. Deo had read up on coffee beans in case he was questioned, but he wasn't selling anything. Jean's father had also paid for the plane tickets. A fat booklet of tickets.

  From Entebbe, Deo flew to Cairo, then to Moscow. He slept a lot. He would wake with a start and look around the cabin. When he realized that no one resembled anyone he knew, he would relax again. During his medical training and in his country's history, pigmentation had certainly mattered, but he wasn't troubled by the near total whiteness of the faces around him on the plane that he boarded in Moscow. White skin hadn't been a marker of danger these past months. He had heard of French soldiers behaving badly in Rwanda, and had even caught glimpses of them training militiamen in the camps, but waking up and seeing a white person in the next seat wasn't alarming. No one called him a cockroach. No one held a machete. You learned what to look out for, and after a while you learned to ignore the irrelevant. He did wonder again from time to time why he wasn't hearing people speak French.  

When his flight from Moscow landed, he was half asleep. He followed the other passengers out of the plane. He thought this must be New York. The first thing to do was find his bag. But the airport terminal distracted him. It was like nothing he'd ever seen before, an indoor place of shops where everyone looked happy. And everyone was large. Compared to him anyway. He'd never been heavy, but his pants, which had fit all right six months before, were bunched up at the waist. When he looked down at himself, the end of his belt seemed as long to him as a monkey's tail. His belly was concave under his shirt. Here in Iburaya everyone's clothes looked better than his.  

He started walking. Looking around for a sign with a luggage symbol on it, he came to a corridor with a glassed-in wall. He glanced out, then stopped and stared. There were green fields out there in the distance, and on those fields cows were grazing. From this far away, they might have been his family's herd. His last images of cows were of murdered and suffering animals-decapitated cows and cows with their front legs chopped off, still alive and bellowing by the sides of the road to Bujumbura and even in Bujumbura. These cows looked so happy, just like the people around him. How was this possible?  

A voice was speaking to him. He turned and saw a man in uniform, a policeman. The man looked even bigger than everyone else. He seemed friendly, though. Deo spoke to him in French, but the man shook his head and smiled. Then another gigantic-looking policeman joined them. He asked a question in what Deo guessed was English. Then a woman who had been sitting nearby got up and walked over-French, at long last French, coming out of her mouth along with cigarette smoke.   Perhaps she could help, the woman said in French.  

Deo thought: "God, I'm still in your hands."   She did the interpreting. The airport policemen wanted to see Deo's passport and visa and ticket. Deo wanted to know where he should go to pick up his bag.  

The policemen looked surprised. One of them asked another question. The woman said to Deo, "The man asks, 'Do you know where you are?' "  

"Yes," said Deo. "New York City."   She broke into a smile, and translated this for the uniformed men. They looked at each other and laughed, and the woman explained to Deo that he was in a country called Ireland, in a place called Shannon Airport.  

He chatted with the woman afterward. She told him she was Russian. What mattered to Deo was that she spoke French. After such long solitude, it felt wonderful to talk, so wonderful that for a while he forgot all he knew about the importance of silence, the silence he'd been taught as a child, the silence he had needed over the past six months. She asked him where he came from, and before he knew it he had said too much. She started asking questions. He was from Burundi? And had escaped from Rwanda? She had been to Rwanda. She was a journalist. She planned to write about the terrible events there. It was a genocide, wasn't it? Was he a Tutsi?  

She arranged to sit next to him on the flight to New York. He felt glad for the company, and besieged by her questions. She wanted to know all about his experiences. To answer felt dangerous. She wasn't just a stranger, she was a journalist. What would she write? What if she found out his name and used it? Would bad people read it and come to find him in New York? He tried to tell her as little as possible. "It was terrible. It was disgusting," he'd say, and turning toward the airplane's window, he'd see images he didn't want in his mind-a gray dawn and a hut with a burned thatch roof smoldering in the rain, a pack of dogs snarling over something he wasn't going to look at, swarms of flies like a warning in the air above a banana grove ahead. He'd turn back to her to chase away the visions. She seemed like a friend, his only friend on this journey. She was older than he was, she'd even been to New York. He wanted to pay her back for helping him in Ireland, and pay her in advance for helping him enter New York. So he tried to answer her questions without revealing anything important.  

They talked most of the way to New York. But when they got up from their seats, she turned to him an said, "Au revoir." When he reached Immigration and took a place at the end of one of the lines, he again spotted her. She was standing in another line, pretending not to see him. He looked away, down at his sneakers, blurred by tears. The spasm passed. He was used to being alone, wasn't he? He didn't care what happened to him anymore, did he? And what was there to fear? What could the man in the booth up ahead do to him? Whatever it might be, he'd already seen worse.  

The agent stared at Deo's documents, then started asking questions in what had to be English. There was nothing to do except smile. Then the first agent got up from his seat and called another agent over. Eventually, the second agent went off and came back with a third man-a short, burly, black-skinned man with a bunch of keys as big as a fist on his belt. He introduced himself to Deo in French. His name was Muhammad. He said he came from Senegal.  

Reading Group Guide

1. Tracy Kidder gets his title, Strength in What Remains, from a poem by William Wordsworth; the passage is included at the beginning of the book. What did the poem mean to you before reading Strength in What Remains? Did the meaning of the poem change after you read the book? If so, how? 

2. While making his escape to the United States, Deo views New York as a land of promise and opportunity. But when he is first in New York, living in Harlem and then Central Park, he feels lonelier than ever before. He thinks, “It was clear that to be a New Yorker could mean so many things that it meant practically nothing at all” (p. 32). What does he mean by this? How does his opinion of New York— and thus the United States— change over the course of the book? 

3. Deo realizes that he is in the “bottom to that near- bottom” (p. 22) of the social hierarchy in New York, yet he makes certain that no one observes him entering Central Park at a late hour, as he does not want to be labeled homeless. What do these two facts, along with his initial struggles to adjust to and learn about urban American life, tell you about Deo’s character? Can you imagine yourself feeling as he does or do you think his reaction is simply “Burundian”? 

4. Kidder writes, “When Deo first told me about his beginnings in New York, I had a simple thought: ‘I would not have survived’ ” (p. 161). Do you think you could have survived what Deo survived? Why or why not? 

5. How do Deo’s experiences on the run in Burundi compare to his experiences in New York City? What are the common themes? How do the dangers differ? How does human compassion figure in these two journeys? 

6. From the moment Deo arrives in New York, he finds people who are willing to help him. Discuss the ways in which Muhammad the baggage handler, Sharon, Nancy and Charlie, and James O’Malley helped Deo get on his feet. What do you think it was about Deo that compelled these people to help him? What was it about them? Would he have survived without them? 

7. Paul Farmer is another person who has had a large influence on Deo. Describe Deo’s relationship with Farmer and the ways in which they change each other’s lives. 

8. While a student at Columbia, Deo recalls that in Burundi, he “had seen people pushed away from hospitals, not only when they had no money, but sometimes just because they were dirty and smelled bad. Now news that a relative was ill would keep him worrying for days, imagining that his mother or a sibling might even now be receiving such treatment” (p. 109). What does this statement tell you about Deo’s thoughts and goals while studying biochemistry at Columbia? Why do you think Deo maintained this perspective? How does this sentiment complement, reflect, or contrast with the views and concerns of Paul Farmer or of Partners in Health? 

9. While Deo is working with Farmer and Joia Mukherjee at Partners in Health in Boston, Joia remarks, “Offensive things are so offensive to him. Understandably. It’s just like he has no skin. Everything just penetrates so much” (p. 156). What does Joia mean by this? Do her words ring true? 

10. Throughout his life, Deo struggles to trust himself, other people, and even God. As he tours Columbia with Kidder in 2006, he says, “I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said, ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired, I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’ And I think he’s been sleeping too much” (p. 186). Discuss this quote in relation to Deo’s views on faith. 

11. The power of memory is a theme that runs throughout the book. In the Introduction, Deo explains that people in the Western world try to remember the tragedies of their pasts, while people in Burundi try to forget them. Trace Deo’s evolution as he journeys from Burundi to Rwanda to the United States and back again, focusing on the changing role memory plays in his life. 

12. Joia makes an interesting point about how different people deal with horrible experiences like genocide. Her own father, having survived massacres during the partition of India, refused to talk about what he saw. Instead, he lived a life of hypochondria, always fearing that death was just around the corner. Deo eventually “let it spew out all the time” (p. 157), while an Auschwitz survivor Kidder meets also chose silence until he reached old age. The survivor tells Kidder, “The problem is, once you start talking it’s very difficult to stop. It’s almost impossible to stop” (p. 160). Discuss the values and weaknesses of each coping strategy. Do you think we have control over how we process our memories and guilt? 

13. Toward the end of the book, as Kidder reflects on what he has seen and learned through Deo, he thinks about the value of “flush[ing] out and dissect[ing] one’s memories” (as Westerners are prone to do) and wonders whether there is such a thing as “too much remembering, that too much of it could suffocate a person, and indeed a culture” (p. 248). After reading Deo’s story, what do you think? Do you agree that “there was something to be said for a culture with a word like gusimbura” (p. 248)? Why or why not? 

14. In Burundi, village elders would say, “When too much is too much or too bad is too bad, we laugh as if it was too good” (p. 36). What does this saying mean? How can it be applied to Deo’s upbringing? How does its meaning affect Deo’s views, particularly toward American life? 

15. Deo relates that in Burundi, people’s names tell stories, or serve as social commentary about the circumstances of the person’s birth or social position. These names, he says, are amazina y’ikuzo, “names for growth” (p. 34). Why is this concept so important in Burundian society? Are the names of the Burundian individuals to whom Kidder introduces us accurate? 

16. Against his family’s wishes, Deo returns to Burundi often after his initial escape. Why does he go back so many times? Discuss the relationship he has with the people of his country, and why he tells Kidder that no matter how tempting, he cannot “reject all the obli - gations of family, and even of affection, and . . . become a loner in the world, never setting foot in one’s old life” (p. 208). 

17. When Deo was first in New York, Kidder writes, “He told himself, ‘No one is in control of his own life’ ” (p. 164). Do you believe no one is in control of his own life? Do you think Deo believes it, at the end of Kidder’s book? 

18. Deo accomplishes the seemingly impossible, working with Paul Farmer and Partners in Health to set up his dream clinic in Kigutu in 2008. The clinic has become “a place of reconciliation for everyone, including [Deo].” As he tells a woman who comes to the clinic and apologizes to him for what he assumes is violence against his family during the war: “What happened happened. Let’s work on the clinic. Lets put this tragedy behind us, because remembering is not going to benefit anyone” (p. 259). How does Deo reach this point in his life? What do you think is next for him?  

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Strength in What Remains 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 151 reviews.
Adeline79 More than 1 year ago
Award winning author Tracy Kidder writes a biography of a journey of survival against unbelievable odds. The main character Deo is a young medical student in Burundi, a country neighboring Ruwanda. He amazingly survives the genocide and escapes to America in 1994. In New York Deo begins the life-long process of recovery. He starts out living in New York's central park and working as a grocery delivery boy. He is plagued by horrifying memories and nightmares and endures many difficulties before meeting some compassionate Americans who tend to his needs and help him to achieve his goal of going back to university. Strength in What Remains traces Deo's many journeys both physical and spiritual. Part one, titled Flights, tells his first journey to America. It then gradually unfolds the details of his original flight for his life which took him across Burundi, into a refugee camp in Ruwanda and then back to Burundi. He narrowly escapes death many times and witnesses unspeakable horrors. Part two is titled Gusimbura which is a word that means to remind someone of something bad. In part two Deo and Tracy Kidder makes a journey to Burundi together, where they revisit the places of Deo's childhood and also visits many memorial sites. Kidder describes Deo's attempt to understand what he and his country had been through and how to move on from it. Part two of the book contained statistics and some research into the history of the events. My only criticism is that I found this section to be a little drawn out. Kidder's book is inspirational. While it reminds us of one of the most tragic events in recent history, it is actually an incredibly positive story. The seriousness of the topic is tempered by some occasional laugh-out-loud humorous moments that are interspersed though the book. Deo's humanity is sustained by his long term vision to bring free health care to the impoverished people of Burundi, reminding the reader that peace and progress is accomplished through the hopes and determination of compassionate individuals.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful account of one young man's struggle to stay alive, both in his native country, and in New York City! This informative story of the struggles of the last few decades of the Hutu and Tutsi peoples to rid the country of the other tribe members. The story covers in terrifying detail the horrors of the wars and how one man was miraculously able to escape, arriving in New York with $200 and looking for anyone who spoke French. The Big Apple was not too kind to this young man either for a while. A good read of struggle and triumph and forgiveness.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
Deogracias is the lens through which we view Burundi and Rwanda during the "events" of the 90's. Through his eyes we also have a reflected view of New York City and its inhabitants in that decade. By the end of the book I realized, without the slightest cynicism, that we must indeed thank god for this man, Deogracias, who shows us what humans can be, and what they can accomplish. Kidder does an exceptional job of showing us the disorientation of Deo during and after the events in Africa, and after his arrival in NYC. Deo was a third-year medical student in Burundi when he came to the United States. He spoke no English, knew no one, and had two hundred dollars. We glimpse his fear, re-live his humiliations, laugh at his misunderstandings, and feel his anger. Somehow Kidder has made this one man's experience universal. We feel responsible.
margaretFL More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful story of a many that came to the US with no more than $200 in his pocket and found a way to become a medical doctor...without losing sight of what he could do back home to make a huge difference. It inspires you to realize that despite what you THINK are roadblocks in your life...are just challenges instead. We all need to think more like these wonderfully compassionate people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very interesting book at first when it tells the story in Deo's point of view but then feels like a boring history lesson when the author tries to butt into the story, which sadly takes up almost half the book.
JaxBookReader More than 1 year ago
No one can make sense out of the Rwanda massacre. Yet, Kidder can make you understand it in the human story of one unlikely survivor. Amazing: he survives Rwanda genocide. More amazing: he survives New York City, broke and without language or skills. Even more amazing: when he survives, he returns to help heal his homeland, even the people that murdered his friends and family. Written by a master of prose journalism, this is a hard book to put down, and an impossible one to forget.
PageNumbA More than 1 year ago
I gave this book an extra star from my first opinion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is truly inspiring! I had to read it for a college course and absolutely loved it. I strongly suggest reading this book and then checking out the fantastic things that are happening because of it.
BillPilgrim More than 1 year ago
This is the inspiring story of Deo, a Tutsi who flees Burundi for New York City in 1994 after the start of genocidal violence there between the Hutus and the Tutsis. He was studying to be a doctor there, but he has to struggle just to survive in New York, sleeping in Central Park at night and working in a grocery store on the Upper East Side, as a delivery boy for $15 a day. He meets a woman in a church rectory while making a delivery, a former nun who decides to help. She finds him a benevolent couple who let him live with them in their Soho loft and help pay for his education at Columbia. At first, it is difficult for him to even talk about what he saw and what happened to him in Burundi, how he survived. But, eventually we hear about it. When the violence broke out, he fled on foot for Rwanda, avoiding the Hutu militias on the way. There he lived in refugee camps for months, hiding among the mostly Hutu refugees by keeping quiet and to himself. He was so ill that people left him alone for the most part. The last part of the book describes a trip he took with the author back to Africa in 2006, revisiting many of the areas that he passed through and stayed in during that time. This book is an excellent account of the horrors that occurred in that part of Africa at the time. You feel the fear and deprivations that Deo experienced as if you are there with him. I have not read any of Kidders other books, but based on this one I will read more of his work. Deo survived in part out of sheer luck, that occurs several times over the course of the time he was fighting to survive in Africa and New York City. But, maybe that is what it takes to avoid a genocide that killed so many. He often just happened to meet the right person, who was willing to extend to him just a small bit of help at a crucial time. Or, just dumb luck, like the time when he returned to Africa to visit and was not able to change his plane ticket for a short flight from Rwanda to Burundi for a bus ticket to travel with a friend, and then the bus was destroyed. It makes me think hard about how I should live my life, and I think I am more likely now to try to help people who desperately need it, even if only in small ways. You never know the full effect that your efforts can produce.
RLugar More than 1 year ago
None of us in the book club knew anything about the Hutus and Tutsi's; and inf fact, we might not have picked up the book if we had known in advance the central theme.... we would have missed a very enlightening, well written, easy to read book. The books is hard to put down once you pick it up. The only part that was a little off was toward the end where Kidder includes himself in the story and narrates through his eyes. We were all very glad to have read this, just as with The Kite Runner and Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
Zinnia More than 1 year ago
But warning, this book is very difficult to read! It is an amazing story of one man's journey from Africa to New York City. The detailed descriptions of the war torn and battered Burundi are heart breaking and eye opening. And not at all easy to read, but I felt like I learned a lot.
Shannon1TC More than 1 year ago
This book is not just a story about someone that survived one of the worst tragedies in human history. It's also about the continued suffering and persecution that Deo had to face as they tried to establish a life in the in a country that should have been a welcoming respite. This book provides an unflinching look at the human capacity for malevolence, the impact of dehumanizing a group of people, and the long-lasting effects of imperialism. It's hard to understand how the events of Burundi and Rwanda could have happened. It's even harder to understand how countries could have stood by and let it happen. Once you get past this, you then have to ask some uncomfortable questions about the treatment of refugees. Deo's determination to rebuild his life and to step back into the medical profession to which he had been called is met with setback after setback. Plagued by memories of the past and tormented by the unforgiven and opportunistic people of a new homeland, most people would give up but not Deo. Deo's journey is inspiring and reminds us of the resiliency of the human spirit despite all odds.
curnet More than 1 year ago
An absorbing view of an imagrant's journey as he flees from the unspeakable violence in Burundi and Rwanda between Tutsi and Hutu. For me, it started a bit slow as it depicted life in NYC for the character as a recent arrival, later going into the amazing experiences in his home country of Burundi. Memorable, and enlightening; it makes me want to understand the world more, and to appreciate the lives of others so far removed from my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everyone should read this for what it tells us about America as well as Africa.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tracy Kidder is an engaging writer and really draws the reader into his material. I have not been a big fan of narrative nonfiction but Kidder has converted me with his well crafted story. It reads like the best novels yet offers insights into recent cultural upheavals that one expects more from academic manuscripts. It is almost hard to believe how successful this homeless African refugee becomes in New York. In a short period of time he goes from sleeping in Central Park to an Ivy League education including medical school. With our current dismal economy it is easy to be pessimistic about careers but this remarkable story will reawaken your belief in the American Dream. I think it is a good read for anyone and it is probably especially good for book clubs because there is a lot of information for discussion.
Pennydart on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, but the misery suffered by its population goes well beyond profound poverty. As is well known, both Burundi and the neighboring country of Rwanda had gruesome civil wars in the late 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in fighting between the two main ethnic groups in these countries, the Hutu and the Tutsi. ¿Strength in What Remains¿ is the story of Deogratias¿or ¿Deo¿¿a young Burundi medical student and a Tutsi. When the Burundi war breaks out in 1994, Deo escapes to New York with $200 in his pocket and finds work as a grocery store delivery clerk. Living on the street, he almost gives up in despair, but he befriends a politically active nun who finds him a home in Lower Manhattan with an older, childless couple, who later pay his way through Columbia. Deo subsequently finds work with the global health organization founded by Paul Farmer, the subject of one of Kidder¿s earlier books, ¿Mountains Beyond Mountains.¿ With the experience he gains at PIH, Deo eventually returns to Burundi to build a health clinic there.Tracy Kidder¿s true story of Deo¿s life has two parts. The first part tells Deo¿s story from the time he is a small child to the time he graduates from Columbia and starts to work at PIH. It¿s powerful, indeed frequently overwhelming. But the second half of the problem is problematic. Here Kidder describes the trip he took with Deo back to Burundi, to retrace the path Deo¿s took while escaping the violence and to make plans for the health clinic. Reading this section recalls watching a Michael Moore movie: you just wish that Moore would get back behind the camera and make his movie, without inserting himself into it, and the same seems true of Kidder. His reactions to the killing fields of Burundi aren¿t what should matter, and yet there he is telling you about his inability to feel the appropriate feelings. There¿s also another problem with the second half of the book: sometimes it seems that Kidder has forgotten what he already wrote. For example, one of the most memorable moments in Deo¿s experience occurs when he¿s been on the run for weeks, and, exhausted, is about to give up just short of the Rwandan border. A Hutu woman sees him, coaxes to keep moving, and lies the border police saying that he is her son, in order to save him. Kidder tells this story in detail, in the first half of the book, writing: ¿¿I¿m too tired,¿ [Deo] told the woman. `I¿m just going to stay here.¿ `No, no,¿ she said. `The border, it¿s nearby.¿¿. In the second half, when they revisit the scene, Kidder describes a conversation he has with Deo: ¿¿What was it you told her?¿ I asked over the noise of the plane. Gazing out, Deo replied `I¿m too tired. I¿m just going to stay here.¿ And she said `No, no. It¿s not too far to the border.¿¿ I happened to read this book shortly after reading Chimamanda Ngozi¿s ¿Half the Yellow Sun,¿ a fictional account of a different African civil war: the Nigerian war that predated Burundi¿s by about 30 years. Both books pack an emotional wallop, but somehow Ngozi¿s fiction had immediacy for me that Kidder was approaching in the first part of his book, but upset in the second.
Asperula on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tracy Kidder is one of my favorites and this book does not disappoint. It is a good companion to Mountains Beyond Mountains. In this book, Kidder relates the story of Deo and his remarkable emergence from the Hutu and Tutsi atrocities in Burundi and Rwanda.
bell7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Deogracias came to New York in the 1990s with little money and no English. He was from Burundi, a country in Africa near Rwanda, and had run for his life during the genocide between Hutus and Tutsis in both countries. Kidder recounts a dual narrative of how Deo survives in New York, and how he survives and escapes the uprising in his home country.I hadn't planned on reading this book, exactly. Strictly speaking, Home Town is the only book by Tracy Kidder currently on my TBR list, though his name has been on my radar as a good nonfiction author ever since I read Mountains Beyond Mountains. So when I saw this on my library's audiobook shelves, I decided to give it a listen on my commute. The book is read by the author, which made especially those parts in which Kidder is in the narrative feel more immediate, but also meant he didn't always have the delivery an actor or reader might, so it took a little getting used to. Deo's story is an incredible story of survival - not just physically, but also how he mentally survived what must have been absolute horror to witness. I couldn't help but cringe at some of the experiences he had in Burundi, Rwanda, and New York. I sometimes thought that Kidder became somewhat repetitive in the second half of the book, repeating stories that he'd already told. (This feeling was only helped by a quirk of the CDs and my car - there was no "end of Disc 1" or introduction with each CD, so when my car stereo started a CD over from the beginning automatically, I sometimes didn't catch it until several minutes into the first track.) This was a challenging read that has given me much food for thought and a definite need to learn more about Burundi and Rwanda in the 1990s.
readyreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Again, Tracy Kidder has given the reader a moving account of one man's personal experience of man's inhumanity to man... The genocide in Burundi and Rwanda is beyond comprehension even after reading the last chapter which attempts to "explain" the why of this episode in history. I still don't get it! There is no sense here. Thankfully, people like Mr. Kidder feel compelled to tell these stories so that they are recorded lest we forget.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I opened the book, I wasn¿t sure I was prepared for yet one more story of flight from genocide in Africa, but before I knew it, I was deeply involved in the life of Deo, a young medical intern who fled Burundi posing as a coffee trader during the ethnic massacre in the country. He found himself in New York with $200 in his pocket, no language apart from fluent French and no contacts. After going through immigration, and arousing sympathy from a baggage handler from Senegal, he lived with him in squatters¿ apartment in Harlem, and later after the Senegalese had gone back to his country, together with the homeless in Central Park. He worked for 15 dollars a day (in 1994!) delivering groceries, and was sick and traumatized. He was afraid to tell anybody his story for fear of reprisals to himself and to his family back home. Plagued by intense stress and malnutrition, he was ready to die when he befriended a church worker who finally helped him. It wasn¿t easy to help him though, as he was still too afraid to reveal the truth to anybody ¿ about his past and his present alike. His past was horrific, and he wasn¿t ready to let anybody in on the story just yet, but then gradually he did. After many twists and turns, he studied at Columbia then started medicine, met Paul Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains), with whom he shared a passion for medicine, and got deeply engaged in spreading health care in Burundi. In many ways in fact, Doe resembles Farmer in his single-mindedness and perseverance. A fascinating read. Well written too.
kimperry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another fantastic Tracy Kidder book. The true story of Deo who comes to America after survivng civil war and genocide in Burundi. Reading his remarkable story makes me appreciate all the advantages I've had growing up safe and peaceful in the United States. This book also portrays how individuals can make such a stunning difference in a person's life. It's also a story about a man trying to live with his demons while always selflessly giving of himself to others in need.
tmannix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tracy Kidder always chooses the subjects of this books well. Here, he focuses on Deo, a medical student from Burundi who amazingly survived two genocidal wars in the 90s (in Burundi and Rwanda) but not without serious psychic injury. He arrives in NYC speaking no English with $200 in his pocket. His first year is, expectedly, incredibly difficult. He works for $15/day as a deliveryman for Gristede's and sleeps in an abandoned building until he decides Central Park is safer. Fortuitously, he meets some wonderful people who give him a place to stay, provide friendship, and help him navigate the educational system. He eventually attends Columbia, joins up with Partners in Health (founded by Paul Farmer who was featured in Mountains Beyond Mountains), attends Dartmouth Medical School, becomes a US citizen and returns to Burundi to open a clinic. All the while he is haunted by the gruesome memories of the Hutu/Tutsi wars. His resilience and his journey are remarkable.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the inspiring story of Deo, a Tutsi who flees Burundi for New York City in 1994 after the start of genocidal violence there between the Hutus and the Tutsis. He was studying to be a doctor there, but he has to struggle just to survive in New York, sleeping in Central Park at night and working in a grocery store on the Upper East Side, as a delivery boy for $15 a day. He meets a woman in a church rectory while making a delivery, a former nun who decides to help. She finds him a benevolent couple who let him live with them in their Soho loft and help pay for his education at Columbia. At first, it is difficult for him to even talk about what he saw and what happened to him in Burundi, how he survived. But, eventually we hear about it. When the violence broke out, he fled on foot for Rwanda, avoiding the Hutu militias on the way. There he lived in refugee camps for months, hiding among the mostly Hutu refugees by keeping quiet and to himself. He was so ill that people left him alone for the most part. The last part of the book describes a trip he took with the author back to Africa in 2006, revisiting many of the areas that he passed through and stayed in during that time.This book is an excellent account of the horrors that occurred in that part of Africa at the time. You feel the fear and deprivations that Deo experienced as if you are there with him. I have not read any of Kidders other books, but based on this one I will read more of his work. Deo survived in part out of sheer luck, that occurs several times over the course of the time he was fighting to survive in Africa and New York City. But, maybe that is what it takes to avoid a genocide that killed so many. He often just happened to meet the right person, who was willing to extend to him just a small bit of help at a crucial time. Or, just dumb luck, like the time when he returned to Africa to visit and was not able to change his plane ticket for a short flight from Rwanda to Burundi for a bus ticket to travel with a friend, and then the bus was destroyed. It makes me think hard about how I should live my life, and I think I am more likely now to try to help people who desperately need it, even if only in small ways. You never know the full effect that your efforts can produce.
Brandie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a heartbreaking and yet uplifting book. There were parts I didn't want to read, and yet I couldn't look away. Deo's story is a powerful one and Kidder does a remarkable job of showing us - not only his struggles in Burundi, but in his struggles of trying to start a life in America. I admit, I didn't even know much about Burundi before reading this, let alone the fact that war happened there - Rwanda was all I heard about in the news, and sadly never enough to fully understand what was actually happening in these countries. But Deo's story has hit me in a powerful way, has opened my eyes to what was really happening there - much like Cellist of Sarajevo opened my eyes to what happened in that country (despite being a work of fiction).Sadly, the more I read the more I realize I am so unaware of what is going on around the world. And how often genocides are taking place. Surely there must be something we can to do counteract these things from ever happening. And yet, we have a government in the US that often preaches never letting things like that happen again, and they are happening. Today even. Anyway, back to the book at hand - a great book. A powerful book. I'm not sure how one could read it and not be moved by the plight Deo went through and not see the need for the work he is trying to do over there.
khiemstra631 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story of a refugee, Deo, from the genocide in Burundi starts off really strongly. I thought it would be one of the best books of the year, but it does lose some of its pizazz before it ends. Nonetheless, it is a riveting story of one man's escape from an African civil war through a flight to New York City, where he landed with $200 and no English skills. Within two years he had enrolled at Columbia University, from which he eventually graduated. He then went to medical school at Dartmouth but had not yet finished med school at the time of the book's publication. It's an incredible story and well worth the time it takes to read.