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Publisher's Summary

Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the best sellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, and the enduring classic Mountains Beyond Mountains, has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the "master of the non-fiction narrative". In this new book, Kidder gives us the superb story of a hero for our time. Strength in What Remains is a wonderfully written, inspiring account of one man's remarkable American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him; a brilliant testament to the power of will and of second chances.Deo arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, plagued by horrific dreams, he lands at JFK airport with 200 dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing. Kidder breaks new ground in telling this unforgettable story as he travels with Deo back over a turbulent life in search of meaning and forgiveness. An extraordinary writer, Tracy Kidder once again shows us what it means to be fully human by telling a story about the heroism inherent in ordinary people, a story about a life based on hope.
©2009 Tracy Kidder (P)2009 Random House

Critic Reviews

"The journey of Deo achieves mythic importance in Tracy Kidder's expert hands." (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • Roy
  • Beaumont, TX, United States
  • 08-31-09

My Favorite of Kidder's Books

This is Tracy Kidder's true life story about one Burundi named Deogratias (or Deo). Deo was a medical student in Burundi forced to leave his home during the genocida civil war. He made his way to New York where Kidder begins Deo's story.

The story of his beginning life in New York City is heart rending, but the chapters on the genocide are particularly frightening. Every skill Kidder has at hand is focused on this informative, enlightening story. The reader learns about communication, immigration, war, and many aspects of the human condition.

The compassion that Kidder has for his subject is clear. His characterizations are rich. Kidder does a wonderful job of reading his own book. I am going to buy copies for my friends this holidays.

Mr. Kidder, thank you for opening our eyes to Deo's plight and the horrors many face even in our own country.

24 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Anita
  • San francisco, CA, USA
  • 03-02-10

Good book but...

This was a great story.
I am a huge fan of Traci Kidder and of his previous book...BUT...he was painful to listen to.
Nasal voice in an un-emotional mono-tonal drone...a pity....

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Philip
  • PAPILLION, NE, United States
  • 09-28-09


Very sad book but written well. The narration style makes listening tedious. Every sentence trails off in volume and pitch. This may be a cultural habit of speech but it does not make for a good listen. Recommend a prospective buyer listens to the audio sample and ask himself if he can listen to that same style for hours on end.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • KP
  • Oakland, CA
  • 04-13-13

Uplifting Story

Tracy Kidder is such a good writer. In this book he takes the massacres in Burundi and Rwanda and makes them personal through the eyes of a refugee, Deo Gratias. Deo grew up extremely poor but rose to become a medical student in Burundi when the massacres began. Kidder lived with and followed Deo’s life for a period of years. They traveled back to Africa together. He was truly embedded in Deo’s life in order to write this book. His gift is the ability to make the reader care about Deo and the whole, horrible situation through the personal story he tells. I have to admit that news articles about the African massacres seemed so frequent that I had become inured to them, BUT when you read this book, it’s harder to ignore.

Deo’s new life in America is well told also. The feelings and experiences he has as a refugee in Harlem are heart wrenching. I found it so interesting to read about the lives of the people who helped Deo, too. I wanted to know: what kind of people would put their life on the line for a penniless refugee like Deo? Deo’s response to these helpers was very interesting as well. Who can he trust? Who will be a spy from his country? Will he continue to put up barriers to block the helpers or be able to open up and accept what they want to give him? Will the helpers be able to accomplish what they set out to get for Deo? Kidder makes this into a good story.

Deo’s first job in Harlem was as a grocery delivery person. It is interesting that in an earlier autobiography of Sidney Poitier which I’m currently reading, he, too, delivered groceries as his first refugee job. He, too, experienced having the front door slammed in his face and being told to go to the back door. Neither man was prepared or understood why this was so. It was a rude awakening for a black refugee. Of course, this wasn’t the worst of their experiences, either.

Deo had the additional fear of retribution from the Hutus from back in Africa. At first the reader thinks he is paranoid (and understandably so) and later we find out that, in fact, he DOES have reason to fear being sought out even in America.

It is amazing that after such a horrendous childhood and immigrant experience, Deo’s life becomes one of such giving and selflessness. It’s either makes one feel motivated or else perhaps that I could never live up to that degree of selflessness.

I like it that the title is from a William Wordsworth poem:
536. Ode
Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

Then sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound! 175
We in thought will join your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright 180
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind; 185
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death, 190
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Howard
  • Scottsdale, AZ, United States
  • 12-04-09

Good, but not Great

Strength in What Remains" tells the admirable, indeed inspiring, story of one man's miraculous escape from the Rwadan/Burundan genocide of 1994, and his subsequent life in the United States. If it were fiction, it would be found in either the adventure, or the fantasy, section of any bookstore. Because it is so well-written, it has the feel of literature. Yet, I'm not as high on this book as are many others, for two reasons.

While the outer details of the life of Deo, a medical student in Burundi, are meticulously detailed, I never had a sense of his inner life, his interior construction; hence, he comes across as one-dimensional, as impressive as that dimension is. Then, the last third of the book, in which Deo, now a Columbia University graduate, makes a return journey to Rwanda and Burundi, accompanied by the author, is, quite frankly, boring, and adds nothing to the narrative in chief. Other readers have noted this also.

Quite a bit of the book is devoted to the many generous and dedicated Americans who helped Deo establish himself and thrive in the US. Their unselfish efforts on his behalf are as inspiring a tale as is Deo's escape from the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, and they made me proud to be an American.

The author did an okay job of reading his book. I did not find his voice annoying, as one reviewer did. It was acceptable, but I think that the book would have gained from a professional reader.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Thought Provoking

The thought provoking story of a brilliant young survivor from Burundi who with hope, persistence, and intelligence survives the slaughter in Burundi (and despair of the slums of New York) to go to Columbia and medical school. The horrifying effects of failed colonial policies and the paradox that a person would be happier under the threat of genocide than living in poverty in New York raise important questions about our culture and politics, all in the context of a great story of generosity, persistence, and the triumph of the human spirit.

I wish we had an epilogue about how the protagonist is doing now, especially following the renewed violence in Burundi.

The author does an adequate job reading, but it is a rare author who does as well as an actor. The recording would have benefited from a professional reader.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Strength Indeed

Any additional comments?

It is amazing that Deo was able to survive and to achieve his life goals. I was especially moved by the descriptions of how the memories of the horrors he saw will always haunt him. Hearing of the generosity of his "sponsors" was also moving. I thought the trip to revisit the places of the horrors was anticlimactic and focused too much on the author. I would have preferred to have listened to a professional narrator.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Traci
  • Flagstaff, AZ, United States
  • 11-13-10

Someone else should have read it

I believe I might have enjoyed the story more had the aurthor not read it. He was monitone and lifeless. The content was interesting, but I found myself not paying attention due to his voice. This book was chosen for our bookclub, so it will be interesting to hear what others who did not listen to it thought of it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Oddly Dull

Tracy Kidder manages somehow to turn an eyewitness account of genocide into an oddly dull narrative. Kidder's own reedy narration doesn't help. Certainly Deo Gracias, a refugee from massacre who managed to graduate the Ivy League and found a clinic, is an admirable subject. Yet somehow the story lacks emotional impact. Boring details galore. I couldn't wait for the book to end.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Barbara
  • Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 09-21-09

Strength in What Remains

I was fascinated. I listened straight through to both parts of the book - which meant that I stayed home all day - and went back and forth between tears and laughter.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful