Strength in What Remains


Tracy Kidder




Date Reviewed:

June 3, 2010

trength in What Remains is the story of Deogratis, a young man growing in Burundi and working as a medical student when the genocide breaks out. (Prior to reading this book, I was not aware that there even was a genocide going in Burundi. Like everyone else, I had heard of the atrocities in neighboring Rwanda, but I did not know about the Burundi genocide.) Deo flees from the horror, and eventually makes his way to into the United States, despite the fact he has no money or legitimate documentation - hard to imagine anyone repeating Deo's experience in our post-9/11 immigration world.

Once in New York City, Deo struggles to adapt to the harsh violent world. He lives with homeless people and other illegal immigrants, squatting in abandoned buildings and working for tiny wages delivering groceries. His life is greatly complicated by lack of language and cultural understanding of the US, plus he doesn't know how to navigate around New York City.

There several different sections to this book One describes Deo's life in Burundi before the genocide. His life is incredibly simple and poor - his family tends cattle and grows meager crops. He and his brothers walk miles to attend school. They have the barest amount of clothing and no medical services.

In the section describing Deo's life in New York City, I was impressed by how many saintly people took an interest in his plight, and worked selflessly and hard to aid Deo. Their efforts eventually result in Deo attending Columbia University and completing his medical training

The section of the genocide describes the ruthlessly killing between rival Hutus and Tutsi populations. Often it is raw bloodlust, Hutus and Tutsi's can not always be distinguished by looks alone (Tutsi' tend to be taller, but there is intermarriage between the two ethnicities, and of course not everyone matches a stereotype body-type). At one point a Hutu woman whom Deo does not know saves him at a refuge camp by vouching for him. During his months long escape from violence, Deo travels overland to avoid the killers, but he witnesses the results of their handiwork - bodies clogging the river. Deo escapes being murdered at one point by hiding under a bed.

The final section describes Deo's return to Burundi. He is determined to go back and build a free clinic.