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!


From the Shelves | “All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy

While reading this book, someone said to me, “in a hundred years, McCarthy will be the Hemingway of today.” I believe it.

All The Pretty Horses is not McCarthy‘s most widely-read novel (see The Road for that), but its unbridled descriptive power and beautifully structured prose make it fascinating. You could spend hours dissecting the thousands of sentences in this book without ever running out of things to say and contemplate. I’ll admit it: there were points when I had to take breaks, just because the material can be so mentally overwhelming if you really let yourself get into it.

Reading McCarthy is refreshing. He pulls apart every bit of grammar you’ve ever learned, destroying it with torrents of run-on sentences and lack of punctuation (namely quotation marks — indeed, sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of who’s talking). Yet he does this in a manner so eloquent and powerful that you can’t get enough of it.

McCarthy’s style underscores the story itself: wild, turbulent, and raw. He tells the story of John Grady Cole through bouts of long, poetic paragraphs composed of only a few sentences contrasted against short, rapid-fire dialogue. In the book, the first in The Border Trilogy, McCarthy lays bare both young love and violence in “a place where dreams are paid for in blood.”

As fair warning to potential readers: it’s easy to get lost in this book mentally. This is one of those books where it is, in my opinion, best to discuss the story as you read it — to truly make sense of the details and understand on a deeper level what is going on. Especially with a novel like this, when the language can sometimes be very detailed and confusing at first glance, it is a good idea to take your time reading it so that you don’t miss out on anything.

That said, this is a stunning work. The prose is breathtaking and the language is beautiful. Take the time to read it, to enjoy it, and you will not be disappointed.

{Source: Image via}

from the shelves: all-time favorites

Introducing a new blog series: “From the Shelves.” I love books and go for just about every genre of literature. (Except Young Adult Fiction, which is the one area of Border’s I avoid at all costs. No Twilight for me, thank you very much.) Although I’m not the most talented writer/book-reviewer, in this series of posts I will attempt to share with you some of my favorite books. I am quite the avid reader, and I am always ready to share my thoughts or opinions on literary works. I have probably read twice as many books as compared to the number of movies I’ve watched. (Of course, reading all 56 yellow hardcover Nancy Drew books multiple times back in middle school didn’t exactly help, either.)

Anyway, to kick of the series I wanted to introduce a few of my all-time favorite books to you. I’m sure you’ve heard of most (if not all) of them, but they’re such great reads it would be silly not to include them. In no particular order…

1. The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad. One of my favorite Middle East/Current Events books. If you know anything about me, you that that I have a slight obsession with the Middle East (especially Iran and the Israel/Palestine conflict). I’m not an expert by any means, but I read as much as I can about this region in an effort to steer away from ignorant mistakes and assumptions about Middle Eastern culture. There are many books I’ve read on the subject, but I like this one in particular because Seierstad takes you inside people’s daily lives and gives you a very intimate glimpse into Afghanistan. It’s also very easy to read, a major plus for nonfiction in my book.

2. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. This is one of my more recent reads from this list, and I strongly recommend that everyone reads this book. It’s not in my immediate area of interest in terms of nonfiction, but I loved it all the same. The story is well-written (it’s told by a journalist) and truly inspiring. And I do not say “inspiring” lightly — this book has 100% deserved that title. It’s the perfect “one person can make a difference” story.

3. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. I can’t believe I had never read any Vonnegut before this summer. One of his earlier works (and, admittedly, the only one I’ve read as of yet), The Sirens of Titan is bursting with creativity, originality, and insight. It seemed to me to be a perfect mix of The War of the Worlds and 1984 (and probably some other book I haven’t read yet). It’s a very easy-to-read book, and Vonnegut’s simple, fuss-free prose is refreshing and spot-on.

4. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This book is stunning. O’Brien’s writing style is very clear — like Vonnegut’s in the sense that it’s free of endless metaphors and heavy vocabulary words. Which serves this book quite well, because it takes you straight to the heart of the story as the author artfully blurs the line between the real truth and the “story truth” in this work of “fiction.” You really must read it to fully understand O’Brien’s genius.

5. A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this book from people — many seem to not enjoy it, but I loved it. The story line is perfectly tragic — beginning as an innocent mistake and then snowballing into something evil and all-consuming. But it was also the writing itself that drew me in. I felt as though every sentence in the book was perfectly worded to show emotions and thoughts without an superfluous details.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. We all know it and we’ve all read it. (There would be serious issues if someone had never read To Kill a Mockingbird.) It’s a classic novel for many reasons, which I won’t bother describing here. But let’s just say this list would not be complete without this work.

7. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This book is most beautiful in the original French version, but if you don’t know French, it’s available in English. It’s a classic children’s book, but every wonderfully illustrated chapter hides deeper meaning behind simple, innocent words. Saint-Exupéry’s novel is a staple of literature.

8. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. If I had to pick just one favorite book of all time, I would choose The Poisonwood Bible. I love Kingsolver’s eloquent writing style and the way she takes the time to develop each character. By alternating the telling of the story through the voices of the Price sisters, she paints a multi-dimensional portrait of the African Congo and the twisted ideology of the girls’ missionary father.

9. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. I read this book every summer (this will be my fourth year running) because I learn something new every time. Truly, this book grows as you grow and you will see things differently every time you read it. The story itself is quite basic — a fundamental search for one’s purpose in life — but heavily laced with deeper meaning.

10. Macbeth by William Shakespeare. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan (let’s be honest, his page-long metaphors can get quite annoying), but I somehow feel differently about Macbeth. It’s my favorite play of his, and I’ve enjoyed studying it multiple times. It’s definitely much easier to read than many of his other pieces (read: King Henry IV, Part One, etc, etc) so I would recommend it for anyone who wants to become more familiar with Shakespeare’s work.

What books are on your reading lists? Any you would recommend for me? I love getting new books!


The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan

How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein

{ Source: Images via Google Image Search. }