Review of Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains

A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness

by Tracy Kidder
Read by the author

Random House, 2009. 8 hours, 30 minutes on 7 compact discs.
Starred Review

Many years ago, I read Among Schoolchildren, a nonfiction book by Tracy Kidder, and was impressed by the thorough way he explored every aspect of his subject. Having been deeply moved by Immaculee Ilibagiza’s books Left to Tell and Led by Faith about surviving the Rwandan genocide, when I found out Tracy Kidder had written a book about it, I was eager to read it.

This is actually the story of a Burundian medical student, Deogratias, who barely escaped the genocide in Burundi and spent six months on the run. The first place his escape took him was to refugee camps in Rwanda — just in time for the genocide to start there.

There were several miracles in his escape story that could have so easily gone the other way. For example, on the day the genocide started, he hid under his bed in the medical school’s dorm, but forgot to close the door to his room. He was too afraid to get out from under the bed and close it, so he huddled under the bed in terror, hearing the killers coming and breaking down other doors and killing people. When they got to his room and saw the door was open, they said, “The cockroach has left!” and moved on. He escaped that night, walking through a building full of dead bodies. And that was only the beginning of a six-month ordeal.

Deo’s troubles weren’t over when he arrived in New York City with two hundred dollars in his pocket. He found a job delivering groceries for fifteen dollars a day and spent his nights in Central Park. He tried to sleep as little as possible, since he had terrible nightmares from what he had experienced back home.

But Deo survived. He made friends. He went to Columbia and later to medical school and did well. Now, he has built a clinic in his parent’s village in Burundi, bringing hope and health to people, easing the conditions that spawned the genocide in the first place.

The website for his organization is When I looked at the website after having listened to the audiobook, I couldn’t imagine a worthier organization to support.

Deo’s story is amazing. I was riveted and found myself lingering in the car to listen a little more when I got home from work.

Immaculee Ilibagiza’s book, Left to Tell, is more a story of faith and forgiveness, as she had visions and miracles while she hid in a bathroom. In Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder takes a secular, objective view. You can tell he is amazed at what Deo survived and how he managed to process and deal with his memories, and then rise above his experiences and bring healing to his people. Tracy Kidder presents the facts, but the listener can’t fail to be inspired.

I also did not realize how bad things had been in Burundi. I’d heard of the “Rwandan genocide,” and hadn’t realized that the same conflict between Tutsis and Hutus happened in Burundi as well, but lasted much longer in a civil war. I think of myself as relatively well-informed, but I knew nothing about Burundi until I listened to this book.

I highly recommend that you listen to or read this amazing story. Yes, some horrible things happen that you won’t want to think about, but ultimately you will be moved and inspired.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

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