From the Shelves | “Strength in What Remains” by Tracy Kidder

In August, I posted 10 of my all-time favorite reads (which you should check out if you’re looking for a good book!), including Tracy Kidder‘s Mountains Beyond Mountains. This book, Strength in What Remains, from the same Pulitzer-prize winning author, has definitely taken its place of honor on my virtual bookshelf. Not to say that Mountains Beyond Mountains isn’t an incredible work, but I felt that I connected more with Deo (the protagonist at the center of Strength in What Remains) and his plight.

In the book, Deo comes to the United States from Burundi after having endured a civil war and a genocide. I found his story especially interesting because it dealt a lot with the Rwandan genocide (of 1994) which also took its toll on the bordering country of Burundi. This was an issue that I admit I had not previously been aware of, and I’m glad that Kidder has brought this to the public’s attention. However, in the book, Kidder cites scholar Peter Uvin to make an important distinction between the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi. While the Rwandan genocide was orchestrated and launched by a Hutu government against the powerless minority Tutsi in a violent eruption of ethnic tension, the Burundian genocide/civil war was indeed a war, between a Tutsi government and Hutu rebels — a war in which both sides had equal power (page 199). To quote the text:

In Rwanda, ordinary people killed mainly out of prejudice. In Burundi, it was mainly out of fear. These were different catastrophes, Uvin insists, not to be conflated. But they had essential ingredients in common: “Social exclusion and the ethnicization of politics … are the two central elements to violent conflict in Burundi and Rwanda that, like electrons, spin around a core of massive poverty and institutional weakness.” — Strength in What Remains, pages 199-200

Aside from the background story of the conflicts in Burundi and Rwanda, Deo’s story is truly inspirational. Strength in What Remains holds all the same qualities we’ve come to expect from Kidder from reading Mountains Beyond Mountains — resilience, hope, humanity. Being his latest book, I thought that it was much better organized than Mountains and I liked the way the chapters were broken up by time and place so the reader could create a timeline for the story in their mind. The story flowed better, in my opinion, Deo’s life, not his work, took center stage. Only the last section of the book details the story of the clinic he went back to build in Burundi, although I’m sure Kidder could have focused on that alone if he wanted to. But he didn’t, and it makes Deo’s story so much more fascinating because it’s not so much about what he does and how that defines him (like in the case of Paul Farmer and Mountains), but about his struggles that provide insight into the universal human spirit — something everyone can connect with, whether Burundi’s civil war interests them or not.

In all honesty, Strength in What Remains just had something special in it for me that Mountains Beyond Mountains couldn’t quite capture. It felt so much more personal and real, and while reading it I felt as if I was learning along with Deo, rather than being lectured to. But without comparing the two works, Strength holds its own as an incredible book. Kidder’s writing, as always, is clean and straightforward: easy to read, yet still intelligent and poetic. I’m a big fan of his prose — it blends detail and simplicity perfectly, without cutting too much out or loading the text with unnecessary description.

Recently, I had the honor of attending a lecture by Tracy Kidder. I thought he was an excellent speaker and I very much enjoyed his presentation, which mainly focused on Strength in What Remains. When I got in line to get my book signed, however, he wasn’t very engaging — maybe this is just the impression I got from him, but it’s funny how meeting the author can give you a new perspective on his work. I really do enjoy his books, though, and I’m going to try my best to read the rest of them without bias.

{Source: Image via}

P.S. Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately – I will try and post a bit more when I have free time and return all your lovely comments!


4 thoughts on “From the Shelves | “Strength in What Remains” by Tracy Kidder

  1. As I said, I read the book. I like it, a book of hope, of pursuing your dreams and holding on to life, of helping even your enemy (the Hutu woman who helps him cross the border), of never forgetting your roots. A whole deal of principles mark the novel. I love the historical settings, the story framework and set. Kidder focused on Deo’s life, but I wish he had focused on his interaction with his benefactors, and the feeling to go back to his own in Burundi after an exodus in Washington.

    I admit it is not my favorite book. I have read similar works in French and Spanish that are breathtaking, for instance of authors like Malika Oufkir, Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and others. I will be posting something alike in the couple of days to come, and I will try to explain, as simply as you did, why I liked them.

    I like your post (yea, one has got to give credit to the blogger ! =p)

    In the meantime, you can enjoy what I promised I would post here.

  2. My friend always says Mountains Beyond Mountains changed her life. I’ve been doing a TON of reading lately so this is definitely going on my list!

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