Rachel Rueckert's Reviews > Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
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's review
Mar 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: africa, biography
Read on March 13, 2011

Strength in What Remains is a tragic and moving story about a Burundian man, Deogratias, who escaped genocide in both Rwanda and Burundi.

I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Burundi until I read this book. It is a country right next to Rwanda and Tanzania, and the country underwent the same thing that Rwanda did but with less coverage and less aid after the fact. Tutsi's and Hutus, the dueling tribes (this book argues that they are more "relative categories", especially since they share the same language, religious practices, and are not really distinguishable by physical features now (263)), also make up the population of this country like Rwanda.

The main character in this story, Deo, is a Tutsi who ends up escaping genocide under extremely rare circumstances by getting to America on the pretense of selling coffee. He goes from homeless in Harlem to a medical student at Dartmouth, and this book chronicles that adventure as well as the road that took him there. Half of the book is told in Deo's perspective, narrating his story and his experience first coming to America. The second half is told from the point of view from the author, Tracey Kidder,once he has become acquainted with Deo and has traveled back to Burundi and Rwanda to retrace the main characters steps.

One of the questions I think this book raises is one that I just might be highly sensitive to after finishing Volatire's Candid, but that is the idea of God in a world that allows such awful things like genocide to happen. I think that juxtaposed to this horrendous account are several great individuals who saved Deo on many occasions. One Hutu woman who had lost her son, claiming that her ethnicity was a "woman and a mother," claimed him to be her son so that he could have a chance to escape. Others were strangers he met in New York who financed his education and gave him a place to stay. The author reluctantly remarked that "someone must have been looking out for Deo." Reluctant because of this tension and question about all of the others that made up the million people who were massacred. Did God not love them?

One of theses angels that aided Deo, Sharon, has a theory on this that seemed to tie the two contradictions together. She says that "we're loved infinitely for however little bit of time we have" and it is "not ultimately tragic to die at any age...I just think there isn't ultimate tragedy except for evil, and God doesn't will any evil. And we're surround by this tremendously loving presence" whether or not we realize it (177).

I think that you need to have a very strong testimony of the afterlife and of God to trust in that, but I am not sure where I would be if I did not have that knowledge. I am grateful for my own religion for helping me to reconcile the evil in the world with the goodness of humanity. Especially when you get talking about some of the examples like the Holocaust and tragedy of Burundi and Rwanda. Can God allow these things to happen?

My thoughts are that he is not responsible for it, as Sharon suggests. He loves us all and he has given us free agency. There is opposition in the world that we have to live in. I believe he has plans (not one plan, but plans) for all of us based on our decisions. Of course, he can intervene, and does in certain circumstances, like Deo's, but that does not mean that all of us get a free easy life card.

These are difficult thoughts, but this is what I am starting to believe more firmly. This was a really informational book and I think anyone, especially someone who thinks that genocide stopped after WWII, should read it.
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