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Showing 1-10 of 114 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 212 reviews
on June 18, 2014
It is sobering to those of us in "the West" when we realize how little we actually know of the suffering so many thousands/millions are enduring in places of civil unrest all over the world. This book is told by another about Deaogratias a third year medical student who was of the Tutsi tribe in Burundi who managed to escape a massacre. The tale of his wandering 6 month journey through the forest hiding from everyone, not knowing who is friend or foe, eating roots and drinking unsafe water, then languishing in a refugee camp is riveting. He landed in NYC, and was helped by other African immigrants to get an under the table cash only subsistence job delivering groceries, to live as a squatter with them because it was "free" lodging, This brilliant man learned what American racial prejudice felt like, choosing to live in Central Park for 6 months until he was ultimately helped by a former nun who found him a family who invested in his education and helped him to ultimately thrive in the US, finishing medical school at Columbia University and Harvard then returning to Burundi to help his people recover and build themselves an d their communities back up. I think of him as the Mandela of Burundi. I highly recommend this book in both the audible and kindle formats. It is one that makes you think and tell other people about it.
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on October 23, 2011
Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, but the misery suffered by its population goes well beyond profound poverty. As is well known, both Burundi and the neighboring country of Rwanda had gruesome civil wars in the late 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in fighting between the two main ethnic groups in these countries, the Hutu and the Tutsi.

"Strength in What Remains" is the story of Deogratias--or "Deo"--a young Burundi medical student and a Tutsi. When the Burundi war breaks out in 1994, Deo escapes to New York with $200 in his pocket and finds work as a grocery store delivery clerk. Living on the street, he almost gives up in despair, but he befriends a politically active nun who finds him a home in Lower Manhattan with an older, childless couple, who later pay his way through Columbia. Deo subsequently finds work with the global health organization founded by Paul Farmer, the subject of one of Kidder's earlier books, "Mountains Beyond Mountains." With the experience he gains at PIH, Deo eventually returns to Burundi to build a health clinic there.

Tracy Kidder's true story of Deo's life has two parts. The first part tells Deo's story from the time he is a small child to the time he graduates from Columbia and starts to work at PIH. It's powerful, indeed frequently overwhelming. But the second half of the problem is problematic. Here Kidder describes the trip he took with Deo back to Burundi, to retrace the path Deo's took while escaping the violence and to make plans for the health clinic. Reading this section recalls watching a Michael Moore movie: you just wish that Moore would get back behind the camera and make his movie, without inserting himself into it, and the same seems true of Kidder. His reactions to the killing fields of Burundi aren't what should matter, and yet there he is telling you about his inability to feel the appropriate feelings.

There's also another problem with the second half of the book: sometimes it seems that Kidder has forgotten what he already wrote. For example, one of the most memorable moments in Deo's experience occurs when he's been on the run for weeks, and, exhausted, is about to give up just short of the Rwandan border. A Hutu woman sees him, coaxes to keep moving, and lies the border police saying that he is her son, in order to save him. Kidder tells this story in detail, in the first half of the book, writing: "'I'm too tired,' [Deo] told the woman. `I'm just going to stay here.' `No, no,' she said. `The border, it's nearby.'". In the second half, when they revisit the scene, Kidder describes a conversation he has with Deo: "'What was it you told her?' I asked over the noise of the plane. Gazing out, Deo replied `I'm too tired. I'm just going to stay here.' And she said `No, no. It's not too far to the border.'"

I happened to read this book shortly after reading Chimamanda Ngozi's "Half the Yellow Sun," a fictional account of a different African civil war: the Nigerian war that predated Burundi's by about 30 years. Both books pack an emotional wallop, but somehow Ngozi's fiction had an immediacy for me that Kidder was approaching in the first part of his book, but upset in the second.
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on March 9, 2010
A book like "Strength in What Remains" forces you to question your faith in the human race and helps restore it at the same time. Tracy Kidder brings us the indelible Deo, a Burundian medical student who survives the Burundian genocide in the mid-90s. He "escapes" to New York City with virtually no money and no friends or family to turn to for help and support and eventually returns to Burundi to set up a medical clinic for the poor. His survival and success causes anyone who anyone reading this book to ask themselves whether they could have not only survived such circumstances, but prospered after what he had been through. We view Deo with a sense of awe and respect for what he went through, how he overcame those nearly insurmountable obstacles and where he is now. If this book can't lift your spirits, you may not have a heart that is beating.

A few things make this book stand out above others of this genre. First, Kidder's use of flashback to alternate between the "present" and Deo's life in Burundi, escape to NY and eventual return to Burundi is far more effective and engaging than a linear approach to storytelling. The second thing Kidder does well is bring us closer to secondary characters that intersect and are instrumental in Deo's resurrection -- from the ex-nun who first befriends Deo in NY, to the Wolf's, the couple that take Deo in to live with them, to Dr. Paul Farmer. In other books, these secondary characters often remain nameless and faceless with little credit or importance placed on their role in helping the main protagonist overcome their obstacles. Kidder brings us close to these characters and reinforces their contributions in helping Deo overcome his past and becoming his new, extended family in his adopted homeland of America.

"Strength in What Remains" has a palpable undercurrent of "fear" throughout the book. This tone is set early with the stark horror as Deo hides from the ethnic killers and narrowly avoids the same fate. However, this fear remains with us through Deo's journey --- from the degrading and denigrating employer/boss Deo has at the grocery store to his first visit to Burundi during the reconciliation where tension and fear still lurks underneath the surface.

This is a book not to be missed. This is a book about survival and redemption that will leave a lasting imprint on anyone fortunate to get to know Deo's story.
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on May 30, 2015
This is the story of Tutsi Burundian refugee "Deo," who escaped the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. Through what seems to be an incredible combination of good luck, serendipity, common sense, and - Deo would say - the grace of God, he makes it to New York City with almost literally nothing but the clothes on his back, hope and dreams. Deo was a medical student before the "wars." Now he is at the mercy of strangers: amazingly, although he does not speak English (he had been taught that his French was the universal language), he finds benefactors, some fleeting, some long-term, some rich, some almost as poor as he, who offer helping hands when he needs them. He also suffers at the hands of abusive employers and chooses utter homelessness - sleeping in Central Park - to escape oppression in ghettos.

Throughout his introduction to urban America, Deo remains optimistic and hopeful. The book flashes back and forth among Deo's early life as a barefoot cow-herder; then as a medical student under primitive conditions, forced to escape and use his wits to avoid death; then as a newly-landed immigrant; then as an Ivy League student - all while on a return trip to his homeland with the author, Tracy Kidder. By then, Deo has become an American citizen fluent in English, and amassed a network of benefactors eager to help him fulfill a dream to create a medical clinic in Burundi near his original home.

This is a book that helps to explain the history of Rwanda and the lesser-known Burundi and how it led to the horrible genocide (the brutal killing of thousands upon thousands of Tutsis by Hutus). Mostly, however, it is the story of one generous, hopeful, man, who - to me - exemplifies the best of
the human spirit and, specifically, the strength of so many American immigrants. Deo is a hero in his own life .... He reminds us that everyone on earth has a "story" and it is worth it to each of us to discover our neighbors' stories. Deo is the sort of person whose story reminds us to "quit our belly-achin'" about trivial things!
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on January 2, 2017
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

This is an amazing though disturbing book. It tells the true story of a medical student, Deo, who escaped from the devastating civil war and genocide in Burundi and came to the United States. The author details the traumas he encounters both in his home country and as an immigrant who doesn’t speak English. The story is told with a number of flashbacks and flash forwards which give almost agonizing detail about his trials and his pain through all this. Deo is amazingly persistent and determined to complete his medical training and to help his people heal. Deo should inspire all of us to overcome our troubles and pursue difficult goals in life.
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on January 31, 2014
The first half of this book is truly outstanding. It's the inspiring story of a man who survived the horrors of genocide in Burundi, and then makes a new life for himself in the hard streets of New York City. This section is beautifully written: moving, informative, filled with tension.

But then Kidder makes the questionable decision to write the second half of the book from his own perspective, as he tells the story of meeting Deo (the hero) and accompanying him on a return to Burundi. The immediacy of the first half is lost, as the emphasis is on Kidder's reactions (usually fear) rather than the complex emotions Deo experiences as he retraces his steps along a journey of sheer terror.

I would also like to have seen a Where Are They Now section, that tells us whether Deo's rural clinic was successful, whether he finally became a doctor, what happened to the amazing woman who picked him up off the streets of NYC and found him a home, etc.

On balance, this is definitely worth reading, though it's unfortunate the brilliance of the first half wasn't sustained until the end.
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on November 21, 2015
Powerful. One of the most memorable books I've ever read in my long life. I gave my copy to a friend and reordered the book this time so I can reread it and have it in my collection. This is an amazing story, told in such a way that I almost feel I was part of everything that happened. It became a reference point for me since I read it three years ago.
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on October 3, 2016
Kidder, once again, draws the story of a remarkable life so we are able to make the connections ourselves--to see how so many people and things came together in this life of misery and dedication that leaves one with a sense of fulfillment and meaning.
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on September 20, 2016
Deo's story is incredible, through and through, and Mr. Kidder weaves his story together masterfully. Very moving and inspiring. It's particularly moving in light of the fact that the clinic Deo helped start in Burundi is very much still providing vital services and growing, from what I can tell. I feel like I inhaled this book.
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VINE VOICEon December 28, 2011
To use all the usual adjectives to describe this book would not be doing it justice in any way. Many times during the course of reading this I kept repeating to myself, "I fall apart for a LOT less than this!" If I had to use one word to sum up this book it would be "humbling."

When you read what Deogratias (Deo) went through from experiencing the genocide in Burundi (all that walking he did blew my mind - and then some!), to his homeless days in New York City, to working menial jobs with sadistic bosses who assaulted and belittled him (his own people and Americans equally), to getting downright lucky and meeting a couple open-minded enough to open their home and wallet to get him a top-rate education in an Ivy League School, you can't help but think (even if it's just for the duration of reading this book) that your worst day is nothing next to what Deo went through.

Hearing and reading reports about genocide is nothing compared to reading a first-hand account of it (even if told through a third-party). Bottom line: The American media (naturally) downplayed how terrible it really was. Just reading about the things Deo saw on his way out of Burundi will remain with me forever (imagine how he feels!).

The best part of this book is that Deo rubs me as a humble person hell-bent on getting his medical degree and building clinics in his native Burundi to help the poor get better health care. He could have easily forgotten his country and become self-centered with an Ivy League education, but he seems as down-to-earth as ever.

I wish him all the best in his every endeavor. Deogratias is someone who deserves good luck, fame, and fortune. - Donna Di Giacomo
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