Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness Book reviews


Author(s): Tracy KidderDownload  


Strength in What Remains is a wonderfully written, inspiring account of one man’s remarkable American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him – a brilliant testament to the power of will and of second chances.Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the bestsellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, and the enduring classic Mountains Beyond Mountains, has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the “master of the non-fiction narrative.” In this new book, Kidder gives us the superb story of a hero for our time. Strength in What Remains is a wonderfully written, inspiring account of one man’s remarkable American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him – a brilliant testament to the power of will and of second chances. Deo arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, plagued by horrific dreams, 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 in search of meaning and forgiveness. An extraordinary writer, Tracy Kidder once again shows us what it means to be fully human by telling a story about the heroism inherent in ordinary people, a story about a life based on hope.

Some Reviews: 1846 in


Kdevoli rated it      

A truly inspiring book about a young medical student named Deo who lives in Burundi (adjacent to Rwanda) in the 1990’s who gets caught up in the civil war between Tutsis and Hutus and needs to escape for his life after the president is assinated. He literally needs to run out of the hospital where he is treating patients to escape machete-wielding madmen. His months on the run are harrowing, but eventually a wealthy friend with ties to America gets him a fake work visa, and he is able to come to America. He speaks not a word of English, as he was always told and thus believed that French was the universal language. His assimilation into New York City intellectual and political life is awe-inspiring. He goes from being homeless in Central Park, to becoming a student at an Ivy league college within a span of two years. But his homeland and the family he left behind are never far from his mind, and he is compelled beyond common understanding to keep returning to Burundi and helping his people as he can. The author (who wrote Mountains beyond Mountains, about Dr. Paul Farmer, who also becomes a friend and colleague of Deo) got to know Deo well over a span of many years, and his is not a story hastily learned or told. The author accompanies Deo on one of his trips home, and his fear and discomfort are palpable. There is a history lesson sprinkled in but mostly the book concentrates on Deo’s private saga.


Linda rated it      

In this book Tracy Kidder chronicles the path of Deo, a young man studying pre-med in Burundi at the beginning of the Rwandian genocide. Through miracle after miracle, Deo escapes massacre, eventually finding himself in New York, where he befriended by a woman working at St. Thomas More, Sharon McKenna, and a couple from Greenwich Village, Charlie and Nancy Wolfe. Deo learns English by studying at the New York Public Library and working at low-end jobs such as delivering groceries. After graduating from Columbia, he enters medical school at Dartmouth. There he studies infectious disease and reads of the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health. Upon received his MD, Deo ultimately returns to Burundi, where he founds a health clinic in a remote village, modeled after the clinics of Partners in Health. (

The character of Deo will always stay with me. Deo’s ability to survive insurmountable odds after witnessing over and over again such atrocities as the massacres in Rwanda and Burundi, and even return to Africa, is very motivating and inspirational. The book is an amazing story of survival that should make those young people in US colleges and universities who complain that their wireless connection is too slow or the food in the dorm “sucks” really ashamed of themselves.


Erin rated it     

This book involves a young doctor’s escape from the civil war/ethnic cleansing in Burindi, which borders Rwanda. The genocide in Burindi had many of the same factors as the Rwandan genocide — Hutus vs. Tutsis. It was definitely an interesting read — the protagonist Deo was a resident at a rural hospital when the fighting broke out, and barely managed to escape before making it to New York. The book focuses on his arrival in New York, and how he made it to college and then American medical school after being homeless in Central Park. The remainder of the book deals with his return to Burundi in later years to see the aftermath. The author accompanys him, and provides a lot of factual detail to go with the emotional reactions Deo is experiencing.

It’s a great book, but I think I’ve been reading too many escape from African genocide/I was a child soldier type of books, because some of the details did begin to bleed together for me. It presents an interesting point of view, given that Deo is a doctor, was better-off, and able to escape to the United States. Definitely worth a read — it was a fantastic book, especially if you’re interested in these types of stories.


Marsha rated it      

This book was eye-opening and amazing on several levels. It is the true story of Deo, a Burundian Tutsi, who was caught in the ethnic violence/massacres between Hutus and Tutsis while he was a third year medical student in Burundi. Through serendipity, he managed to escape to New York City where he lived in Central Park for several years, earning $15 a day as a grocery deliveryman. While delivering groceries, he met a woman who took on his cause. She found a couple who practically adopted Deo. Through their support and efforts on his behalf, he eventually graduated from Columbia University and went on to attend medical school. He interrupted his studies again to fulfill his dream of constructing and staffing a medical clinic in Burundi.

Deo’s story is told masterfully by Kidder–the violence and horror of Deo’s life is clear, but not gratuitous. The history, culture and prejudices of the Burundians and Rwandans are explained in a non-judgmental way–Deo is amazingly forgiving and hopeful–and Kidder just lets him tell his story.

I learned so much from this book and am glad I read it.


Chandra rated it     

I keep saying that I’m going to cut myself off from reading more books about escape from genocide in Africa, but then I am always reminded of how fortunate I am that for me they are books I can put down or not read at all, not a reality I had to endure, full of haunting memories. This is an extraordinarily well told tale of Deo, who escaped from the genocide of Burundi and Rwanda to the slums of New York, where, through perseverance and the kindness of strangers, he came to fulfill his dream of studying medicine in the US. Kidder accompanies Deo on several return trips to Burundi, where Deo is determined to built a medical clinic to serve his adopted community and combat the structural violence that lies at the root of the tragedies that plagued his homeland. It is of course not an easy read, but Kidder’s gift for narrative and his poignant self-awareness as he travels with Deo and attempts to interpret his thoughts and moods and silences as he processes memories from his past along side his hopes for the future. A moving and inspiring story, incredibly well told.


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