Matt Gough's Reviews > Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
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Jun 24, 12

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Read from June 20 to 24, 2012

In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder had a complex person to base his book on: Dr. Paul Farmer was brilliant, ambitious, and inspiring, but had moments of arrogance and annoyance which showed that he was not a superhero. In Strength in What Remains, Kidder turns his focus on Deo, a refugee from Burundi, who comes to New York to escape the Hutu-Tutsi violence that occurred in Rwanda and Burundi in the ‘90s. At first glance, Deo’s story seems to be just as compelling as Dr. Farmer’s, yet Kidder never quite makes the book as effective as MBM.

Kidder decides to tell his narrative in nonchronological order, as we first meet Deo on his way to New York, and see his struggles in America and the people that helped him before understanding his past and what had happened to him in his native country. I thought that this narrative choice was effective, as we as readers can judge Deo on his trials in New York like the people that he comes into contact with, without knowing anything about his background and the experiences he’s gone through.

But the book doesn’t go much farther than that. In the first half of the book, we read about Deo’s horrendous experiences in Burundi, his escape to New York, and his success in America. The second half of the book focuses on the Hutu-Tutsi violence and Deo (accompanied by the author) returning to Africa to visit the places that figured prominently in his life in Burundi. As the book went on, I kept expecting Deo’s story to continue, to hear about the health clinics he had opened and the successes he was able to achieve in his native country which had seen so much grief.

But, that never happened. Instead, we see Deo mentally and emotionally dealing with the horrors he experienced, but not really doing anything to banish those demons. Briefly, we visit the site where he plans on building a clinic, but that episode is tarnished by the author’s pessimism, and we as readers are left doubting whether Deo will really be able to do anything for both his family, his fellow countrymen, and himself.

In effect, this book is a story about a survivor of the Hutu-Tutsi genocide, not a book about a person going through hell but still managing to make something of his life and renew our faith in humanity. I was expecting more of that reaffirmation in the human spirit and the joy that we can bring others (as was the case with MBM); instead, we saw the horrors of a genocide and the psychological damage that resulted.

I guess it was just not the book I was expecting.
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