Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness

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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 ...
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New York, NY 2009 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Tight binding with clean text. New First edition. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 277 p. ... Audience: Young adult. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the modern classics "Mountains Beyond Mountains" and "The Soul of a New Machine" returns with the extraordinary true story of a young man and his will to turn his life into something truly remarkable. Read more Show Less

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When the massacre of his people began, young Deo was a Burandian medical student. For six months, he stayed one step ahead of the Hutu militia, his life saved at one point by a kind Hutu woman who pretended that he was her son. Finally he made his way to America, but his troubles were far from over. In this book, so aptly titled, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tracy Kidder describes Deo's hard days and long nights as an illegal immigrant in the most dangerous parts of New York; sleeping in abandoned buildings and crack houses, working at starvation wages. Though still grappling with his African nightmares, he longs to resume his education. Finally, with the help of benefactors, he is able to fulfill that ambition, eventually completing his medical studies at Dartmouth. Then he does the nearly unthinkable: He returns to his still-ravaged homeland to build a clinic. Accompanied by Kidder, he travels through the scenes of the genocide.
From the Publisher
Praise for Tracy Kidder’s Strength In What Remains

“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. Deo’s experience can feel like this era’s version of the Ellis Island migration. Deo is propelled, so often, by pure will, and his victories…summon a feeling of restored confidence in human nature and American opportunity. Then we plunge into hell. Having only glimpses of Deo’s past, we suddenly get a full-blown portrait. Kidder’s rendering of what Deo endured and survived just before he boarded the plane for New York is one of the most powerful passages of modern nonfiction.”
–Ron Suskind, The New York Time Book Review

“Kidder tells Deo's story with characteristic skill and sensitivity in a complex narrative that moves back and forth through time to build a richly layered portrait. One of the pleasures of reading Kidder is that sooner or later, in most of his books, someone puts us in mind of the closing lines from &'grave;Middlemarch'': &'grave;For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.''”
–Boston Globe

“A tale of unspeakable barbarism and unshakeable strength.” –Time Magazine

“It is a mark of the skill and ­empathy of Mr. Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning ­author, that he makes Deo's story come alive believably–as the experience of a real ­individual–and avoids…the usual tropes of a ­triumph-of-the- human-spirit tale. [T]he book encourages a general hope that individuals can ­transcend even the greatest horrors.”
–Wall Street Journal

"Strength in What Remains" builds in magnitude and poignancy. It is moving without being uplifting, because Kidder has the intelligence to avoid any hint of the saccharine within its pages.” –Chicago Tribune

“[Tracy Kidder’s] kind of literary journalism…involves seeing the world through the eyes of those he writes about; not judging them, simply presenting them as they move through life… Kidder is one of the best, if not the best, at it, garnering a Pulitzer, a National Book Award and generations of grateful readers.” –Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

“In its sober ability to astonish, this may well be Tracy Kidder's best book.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Tracy Kidder's new book "Strength in What Remains" is...a narrative infused with a broad, universal appeal and occasional touches of brilliance. He offers us fine prose, complex characters, and realistic portrayals. Deo's resilience, his struggle to overcome adversity strikes a chord in all of us. His story reaffirms our hope that one person can make a difference... [T]his book is one not to be missed. –Seattle Times

Tracy Kidder is probably one of the few authors alive who can craft a narrative from the extremes of despair and hope and make it work beautifully. Kidder is a master of creative nonfiction, employing both journalistic and novelistic techniques to tell a true story, compellingly. –Steve Weinberg, Raleigh News & Observer

“With an anthropologist’s eye and a novelist’s pen, Pulitzer Prize—winning Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains) recounts the story of Deo, the Burundian former medical student turned American émigré at the center of this strikingly vivid story…. This profoundly gripping, hopeful and crucial testament is a work of the utmost skill, sympathy and moral clarity.”
Publishers Weekly ( starred review)

“A tale of ethnocide, exile and healing by a master of narrative nonfiction…. Terrifying at turns, but tremendously inspiring…a key document in the growing literature devoted to postgenocidal justice.” –Kirkus Reviews

"Read this book, and it's one that you will not likely forget. The story of a journey, classical in its way, but contemporary and very modern in its details. It's written with such simplicity and lucidity that it transcends the moment and becomes as powerful and compelling as those journeys of myth." –Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action and The Lost Painting

“The reporting is impeccable, but it’s Kidder’s great feat of sympathetic imagination that dazzles. Walk a mile in Deo’s shoes; your world will be larger and darker for it.”
–William Finnegan, author of Cold New World and Crossing the Line

“The journey of Deo achieves mythic importance in Tracy Kidder’s expert hands.”
–Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family

“Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains is a tour de force. Inspiring. Moving. Gripping. Deo’s story is remarkable, stunning really. His journey is the story of our times, one that keeps the rest of us from forgetting. This book will stir the conscience and resurrect your faith in the human spirit.” –Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

"Believe me, at the end of this riveting narrative, your eyes will not be dry."
–Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost

Ron Suskind
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…Kidder's approach is a reminder of what can make American nonfiction so exceptional although, of late, it is rare. It's that bottom-up quality that defies big-budget marketing and calculation, the search from on high for a "sure thing." In this connected age, disruptive change—and transforming insights—bubble up furiously from the least likely places. Kidder saw that bottom-up flash of energy in the smile of a peripheral man. And we are lucky he did.
—The New York Times Book Review
Marie Arana
…extraordinarily stirring…It's certainly not the first time we've heard heartbreaking accounts of the civil wars in Africa. But there is a touching intimacy about Deogratias's tale, and it forces us to look hard at the baffling history of the region.
—The Washington Post
Dwight Garner
I read with great interest. Mr. Kidder relates the story of Deo's rural childhood in Burundi with patient grace and attention to detail. He has a casual mastery of complex topics, like the history of suspicion and animosity between Hutus and Tutsis…Strength in What Remains is perhaps at its finest as an examination of the nature of human charity and good will.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

With an anthropologist's eye and a novelist's pen, Pulitzer Prize-winning Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains) recounts the story of Deo, the Burundian former medical student turned American émigré at the center of this strikingly vivid story. Told in flashbacks from Deo's 2006 return visit to Burundi to mid-1990s New York and the Burundi of childhood memory and young adulthood-as the Rwandan genocide spilled across the border following the same inflamed ethnic divisions-then picking up in 2003, when author and subject first meet, Deo's experience is conveyed with a remarkable depth of vision and feeling. Kidder renders his subject with deep yet unfussy fidelity and the conflict with detail and nuance. While the book might recall Dave Eggers's novelized version of a real-life Sudanese refugee's experience in What Is the What, reading this book hardly covers old ground, but enables one to walk in the footsteps of its singular subject and see worlds new and old afresh. This profoundly gripping, hopeful and crucial testament is a work of the utmost skill, sympathy and moral clarity. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A tale of ethnocide, exile and healing by a master of narrative nonfiction. Deogratias, Deo for short, is a young African man who would be easy to lose in the busy streets of New York-timid, unsure of which subway goes where, speaking only halting English. So he arrived more than a decade ago, one of many with a sobering story. From Burundi, he narrowly escaped being massacred for being Tutsi, then fled across the border to Rwanda, where he narrowly escaped death in many guises. In New York, he was befriended by a kindhearted Senegalese who invited him to join a community of squatters from West Africa, Jamaica and other foreign lands. But when his friend returned to Africa-"it's so hard here," he told Deo-the young Burundian was on his own, living on the streets, sleeping in parks and libraries. From there, by virtue of hard work and personal charm, he steadily rose in a way that would do Horatio Alger proud. He gained admission to Columbia and worked to finish the medical degree he was earning back home, all the while sending hard-earned money to relatives and taking elective courses in literature and the humanities. When Kidder (My Detachment, 2005, etc.) picks up the tale in the first person, he accompanies Deo on a return trip to a remote part of Burundi, where the former refugee built a hospital. Upon seeing this place, called Village Health Works, one Hutu man who had pledged to killing Tutsis remarks, "I wish I had spent my life trying to do something like this." The moment, Kidder makes clear, does not portend forgiveness, for the graves of untold hundreds of thousands are still too fresh-but it does speak to the possibility of remembrance and, one hopes, reconciliation.Terrifying at turns, but tremendously inspiring-like Andrew Rice's The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget (2009), a key document in the growing literature devoted to postgenocidal justice.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Each of Tracy Kidder's books sheds light on at least one seminal aspect of human existence -- work, technology, home, education, community, healthcare. In his impressive run as a literary journalist, he has produced eight books of narrative nonfiction that focus in great detail on a carefully chosen, seemingly small story that turns out to have much broader significance. Taken together, his work paints a multifaceted portrait of American life.

Strength in What Remains is more global in outlook, addressing issues of immigration, world poverty, and violence -- again, by zeroing in on one man, a charismatic, sympathetic Burundian medical school student who survived Tutsi-Hutu massacres in his native Burundi and genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It is an important and absolutely gripping, mind-altering book, a must-read on many levels.

Like John McPhee, whom he has cited as an influence, Kidder is a peripatetic, hands-on investigative reporter who bores deeply into a story and unpacks it with a strong narrative line, an intricate structure, a strict adherence to facts, and an admiration for his subjects. He has written that a fundamental job of nonfiction is "to make what is true believable."

Beginning with The Soul of a New Machine (1981), his Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning chronicle of the making of a computer at the dawn of the personal computer age, Kidder's early books stayed relatively close to his western Massachusetts home, demonstrating that you don't have to travel far for extraordinary stories if you scratch below the surface. In House (1985), Kidder explored the meaning of home while chronicling the process of building an architect-designed house in Amherst. Among Schoolchildren (1989) profiled a Holyoke schoolteacher's tenaciousness in a public school system plagued by numerous social and economic woes, while Home Town (1999) examined the panoply of life in a midsized town, Northhampton.

Kidder wandered farther afield with Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003), an inspirational portrait of Dr. Paul Farmer, the infectious disease specialist and humanitarian who helped bring healthcare to Haiti by founding Partners in Health. Strength in What Remains is in many ways a natural outgrowth of that project. Also addressing global issues of poverty and health, it probes the lasting effects of violence and evil. Kidder tells the story of Deo, who barely made it to New York City -- through the intervention of a wealthy classmate -- as a refugee from Burundi and Rwanda in 1994. Once in America, Deo's struggles were hardly over. He was free from physical threat but tormented by memories of mutilated, slaughtered families and burning bodies. Kidder writes, "No one was chasing him with a machete now.... Now his body was at rest. Now it was his mind's turn to run."

Sick and weakened from six months on the run, knowing no one and speaking no English, the former medical student is fortunate to be taken under the wing of a Senegalese baggage handler upon his arrival at JFK Airport. This man, a struggling immigrant himself, leads Deo to shelter in an abandoned Harlem tenement and helps him find a grueling job delivering groceries for $15 per 12-hour day. The first English phrase he masters is, "Where is the service entrance?" He despairs in his new life, which "made you feel like you were simply not a human being." Miraculously, through the determined help of a cadre of good Samaritans, he eventually resumes his studies at Columbia University and lands at Partners in Health and Dartmouth Medical School.

Deo's story is heart-pounding, horrifying, and awe-inspiring. In simple, direct prose, Kidder describes Deo's childhood, porting grains with his older brother, barefoot, from their family's lake farm up to their village home in Butanza, some 50 hilly kilometers away; his early education, a haven despite frequent corporal punishment; his decision to study medicine in Bujumbura rather than accept a scholarship to study for the priesthood in Belgium; his harrowing flight from violence; and his unswerving ambition to bring medical care to Burundi. Kidder comments repeatedly that he doubts he would have survived such an ordeal.

Digesting reams of research, Kidder explains how the violence in East Central Africa grew out of long-standing Tutsi-Hutu ethnic tensions that were exacerbated by Belgian colonization in the early 20th century. Approximately 50,000 Burundians were killed in the 1993 violence, and somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 in the succeeding ten years of civil war. The death toll was even higher in the shorter-lived Rwandan genocide -- often put at 800,000 people. Kidder comments, "If you read too many numbers like those, they begin to take on a pornographic quality -- all those lives turned into integers, the bigger the more titillating, and the more abstract." By making us care so intensely about Deo, Kidder puts a face on genocide and humanizes East Central Africa's plight.

A lesser writer might have been happy to milk Deo's story for its page-turning power and leave it at that. But Kidder is after something deeper here: After reconstructing Deo's tale without comment or interruption in Part I, Kidder circles back in Part II to chronicle his own efforts to understand Deo's life and probe the long-term effects of such "ungovernable" memories. In other words, he delves deeper, beyond the survival story, to questions of good and evil, despair and perseverance. Although less intense, this material is no less compelling.

Kidder revisits the scenes of Deo's past, starting in New York. In 2006, three years after having met him, he accompanies Deo on one of his trips back to Burundi and Rwanda. He worries about Deo's "endlessly renewed sorrow" and about further traumatizing him with his inquiry: "On several occasions, I offered to stop my search for his story and let his memories die, if they would. I believe that once or twice, I sincerely hoped he would accept my offer."

Kidder confesses, "Actually, I thought if I had memories like his, I would spend the rest of my life as far away as possible from Rwanda and Burundi." But, over the course of their often tense trip together, he comes to recognize that Deo's determination to bring public health service and medicine to his parents' village is his way of coping with the problem of evil: "These, I think, were the subjects around which time could reassemble for him, around which past and present and future could begin to seem coherent and purposeful."

Strength in What Remains takes its extraordinarily apt title from William Wordsworth's resonant lines,

Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Kidder's book stirs our primal sympathy and nurtures our philosophic mind. It is a remarkable achievement. --Heller McAlpin

Heller McAlpin is a New York–based book critic whose reviews appear regularly in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400066216
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/25/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 6.66 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Tracy Kidder
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.
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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.  

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 101 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Moving Story

    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.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Africa Comes Alive!

    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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    We are all washed with his forgiveness...

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    This is what everyone needs to read! What a difference kindness to others can make...and the difference one man can bring to the world!

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2013

    Tracy Kidder does it again!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2011

    In-depth Bio

    I gave this book an extra star from my first opinion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2011

    A MUST READ!!!!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010


    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    Engaging book for book clubs

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    excellent book

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 14, 2009

    Deogratias is not your typical refugee or is he? Highly educated and talented but relegated to unskilled labor. This book will challenge you to consider how you view and treat refugees. You don't know when you may be dealing with another Deo.

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A view inside the heart of darkness..and light.

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    Strength in What Remains

    Everyone should read this for what it tells us about America as well as Africa.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Inspiring and uplifting story with informative historical and political information

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2015



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  • Posted July 8, 2013

    This is a heartbreaking story of Deo¿s escape from his country p

    This is a heartbreaking story of Deo’s escape from his country plagued with genocide, war and devastation. It is amazing to me what Deo endured, what he saw in his days before he left Burundi and came to America. Deo describes how while he flew over his homeland and escaped, he was painfully aware that on the ground below his counrtymen were suffering and dying. It’s an emotional, gripping and horrifying recollection of a senseless genocide of a people, when even Deo seems uncertain why there is hatred for his kind. Is it his race or his class that he’s being persecuted for?

    Upon arriving in America, Deo’s life was far from the American dream. He fled a life where he was oppressed because of his race or class and landed in a life of homelessness and severe poverty living in New York. What transpires is another test of his perseverance and his powerful love to learn and make a better life for himself and those around him. It’s an inspiring and haunting story that gave me a new appreciation for those civil rights leaders who helped secure our racial equality.

    I think this would make a very interesting book for a book club. If you enjoy nonfiction or novels like Sarah’s Key by Tatiana deRosnay, this is an eye-opening and worthwhile read.  I would like to read Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World.

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  • Posted April 2, 2013

    A great story told with a terrible since of pace and without a v

    A great story told with a terrible since of pace and without a very great writer. An ultimately dragging book with not much to be desired.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2012

    Highly recommend

    Required reading for school. Thouroughly enjoyed this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2012

    Need kits and mate

    Name is rowan star... if interested reply rowan

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 26, 2011

    Great read!

    I have several of Tracy Kidder's books and this did not disappoint. This is a gripping story. I appreciated that I would lose sense of the timeline, which mirrored the challenges of the character. I would definetly recommend this book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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