Summary and book reviews of Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains

A journey of remembrance and forgiveness

By Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Aug 2009,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: May 2010,
    304 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Teacher's Guide

If you'd like a printable version of this guide, download the PDF attachment at the bottom of this page.

Note to Teachers
Strength in What Remains (hereinafter Strength), recounts the story of Deogratias (Deo) – his flight from civil war in Burundi and Rwanda to homelessness in Central Park, New York City, to graduation from Columbia University, and to the fulfillment of the dream of his youth: to build a health care clinic in his homeland, free to those who can't pay. Deo grows up in Burundi, and eventually becomes a United States citizen.

In September, 1993, while Deo is in his third year of medical school, the president of Burundi is assassinated.  Ethnic civil war ensues...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse

This is a smart book for what it does not do. It does not attempt to get inside Deo’s head to guess what he might have been thinking. It does not try to psychoanalyze him once he starts talking about his trauma. It does not overly dramatize this story of extreme suffering and redemption, simply allowing the events to unfold on the page. And it does not attempt to puff out Deo’s story and make it represent more than it does. Kidder takes on the role of a reporter on Deo’s life, but his unusual narrative structure lends the story the grace and depth of a novel.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

Full Review Members Only (1129 words).

Media Reviews
Booklist

Kidder uses Deo's experiences to deliver a very personal and harrowing account of the ethnic genocide in East Central Africa.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This profoundly gripping, hopeful and crucial testament is a work of the utmost skill, sympathy and moral clarity."

Kirkus Reviews

Terrifying at turns, but tremendously inspiring...a key document in the growing literature devoted to post-genocidal justice.

The Washington Post

Kidder by no means tells a seamless story. He lurches recklessly between Africa and New York and from past to present, fragmenting the natural suspense... tells us too little and then too much, glossing over material he knows better than we do and then over-explaining things we know perfectly well. He inserts himself into the narrative and indulges in inane asides. But for all these flaws, the sheer power of Deo's story shines through.

The Washington Post

I wish Mr. Kidder had explored more [of] the demands on Deo—and the complicated relationships with his benefactors—once he ­became the remarkable genocide survivor. What pressures did Deo feel to go back and help save Burundi after he had already achieved and overcome so much? ...quibbles aside, though, a reader cannot help feeling, by the book's end, a deep admiration for Deo and for those who helped him help himself.

The New York Times

That 63-year-old Tracy Kidder may have just written his finest work — indeed, one of the truly stunning books I’ve read this year — is proof that the secret to memorable nonfiction is so often the writer’s readiness to be ­surprised.

Reader Reviews
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The Burundian Genocide
The 1993 Burundian genocide (which preceded the 1994 genocide in Rwanda) traces back to the end of Belgian colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s and the first Berudian genocide of 1972. Burundian history fits, like interlocking puzzle pieces, with that of its northern neighbor, Rwanda (map of Central Africa).

Like in Rwanda, Hutus make up about 86% of the population in Burundi, with only about 13% Tutsis (the remaining 1% are Twa pygmies). Unlike in Rwanda, where the Hutu majority took power, the small Tutsi elite in Burundi held onto government and military positions after independence. In April 1972, there was a bloody Hutu uprising which prompted an even more grisly retaliation by the Tutsi military. The Tutsis ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Strength in What Remains, try these:

  • Airlift to America jacket

    Airlift to America

    by Tom Shachtman

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    This is the long-hidden saga of how a handful of Americans and Kenyans fought the British colonial government, the U.S. State Department, and segregation to "airlift" to U.S. universities, between 1959 and 1963, nearly 800 young East African men and women who would go on to change the world.

  • An Ordinary Man jacket

    An Ordinary Man

    by Paul Rusesabagina

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    The riveting life story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina who, as his country was being torn apart by violence during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, sheltered more than 12,000 members of the Tutsi clan and Hutu moderates, while homicidal mobs raged outside with machetes.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...
  • Book Jacket: Toms River
    Toms River
    by Dan Fagin
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction

    In Toms River, investigative journalist Dan Fagin ...
  • Book Jacket: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
    by Gabrielle Zevin
    I feel like Gabrielle Zevin wrote this wonderful book, about a lonely New England bookstore owner ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  170The Weight of Blood:
    Laura McHugh
  2.  254Cartwheel:
    Jennifer duBois

All Discussions

Who Said...

The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.