Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Review: Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

I was so blown away by Tracy Kidder's previous book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, that I didn't think twice about picking up this one (in fact, I think I will search out more of his books, he's such a great writer.) And while the story of Deo's escape from civil war in Burundi to New York City with only $200 and not a single contact or word of English is inspiring, he's a little more of an enigma than Dr. Paul Farmer. I never really feel like I get to know him, and he always hovers slightly outside of my line of vision.

Deo grows up in a family of cowherders. He goes to school most of the year (except when he's needed to work) and eventually goes to medical school. In his third year war breaks out between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Deo didn't even know which he was until he was in his teens, as it was a non-issue in his life until all this happened. With slaughter all around him, he manages to hide and be overlooked and then walks to Rwanda, where the exact same civil war (but with the dominant racial group reversed) broke out a few months later. He returns to Burundi and eventually, with help from friends, is able to secure a visa and a flight to Kennedy. A customs official (a fellow African emigre) pities him and takes him to his flop house in the Bronx and helps him figure out the subway system and get a job delivering groceries. At one delivery at a church, he meets a woman who adopts him as her cause. Through her he is eventually de-facto adopted by an older couple in the Village. Meanwhile he begins to attend Columbia University as an undergraduate (his paperwork from Burundi is hard to come by and some of it claims he is dead.) One day he goes to hear a lecture by Dr. Paul Farmer and afterward he speaks further with Farmer who offers him a job at his foundation in Boston. The foundation works to open medical clinics in Haiti, and Deo has the idea that maybe one day through it he can open a clinic in Burundi.

Inspiring, although filled with breathtaking violence, this book does make you wonder what you would do in Deo's shoes. Would you give up and die as so many did in his home country? Would you have found the resources in New York? Would you have been able to put a life together as he has with such terror and tragedy in your history? Deo is a persistent, driven, caring man who is making a definite difference in the world. The writing is effortless, smooth, and even with jumps back and forth in time and continents you are never confused or jarred in the transitions. Kidder is a masterful author.

I bought this book at a used bookstore.


Jen said...

I really thought this was an amazing book. I read it, and then wound up reading more books about Rwanda (which was educational, but I then felt a bit overwhelmed).

Nice to read your thoughts on this book. :)

Booksnyc said...

Like you, I was blown away by Mountains to Mountains. I look forward to reading this one too especially with the theme of immigration.

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for linking this up to the Immigrant Stories Challenge!