Strength in What Remains

Strength in What Remains - Tracy Kidder

Where are we today at the beginning of the 21st Century? Where are we headed? I have been reading books that focus on ethnic cleansing and genocide. It seems to me there is more and more of this with each year that passes. What does this say about the way the world is run today? How do different books tackle these questions? When The Stars Fall To Earth by Rebecca Tinsley was very good, albeit simple, but with an important message. It was fiction. It dealt with the problems that continue today in Darfur. I kept thinking, why did I like it so much even if it is simple and fictional, but I did! I liked it because it spoke of today's world and it spoke with clarity.

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness by Tracy Kidder is equally good. This one is biographical. The author lets Deo, a survivor of the Rwandan/Burundi genocide, speak of his experiences. This is non-fiction, but it too speaks with clarity and leaves an important message about the world we live in today. Is there hope? Yes, but the main message from both is that people of the 21st Century must keep themselves informed and must get involved.

Kidder’s book clearly explains both the Rwandan and Burundi genocides. Although they are interrelated and do share some similarities, there are differences too. In both countries poverty, malnutrition and lack of educational opportunities have led to the underlying problems. In both countries Hutus comprise the overwhelming majority of the population, but in Burundi the military and political power was transferred to the Tutsis by first the German and then the Belgian colonial authorities. In Rwanda Hutus were in power. Both countries became independent from Belgium in 1962, and in both countries Belgium failed to prepare the governments for a successful takeover of power. The ethnic differences have been reinforced by the colonial parties. In Rwanda there was a government of the majority fighting against a powerless minority. The Burundi genocide was a prolonged ethnic civil war by a minority government fighting against rebels of the majority.

The chapters flip between those focused on Deo’s personal experiences and the historical details of the war. In addition, Deo’s experiences do not follow a chronological order. I would have preferred that they had. Chronologically you start in the middle, when Deo has just gotten to the US in 1994. He had been in his third year of medical studies in Burundi when he fled from rampage of killings in Burundi to Rwanda, back to Burundi and then to NYC, an immigrant with neither English, money nor even a green card. He went from an inferno to another situation scarcely better, but he survived. Later in the book the author accompanies Deo back to Burundi and Rwanda. He also accompanies Deo to those places he lived in Harlem, the exact sites in Central Park, to Soho and to those who gave him a helping hand. The reader looks at how Deo dealt emotionally and intellectually with his experiences. It all would have been simpler had the events been presented chronologically. That is my one complaint with the book.

The audiobook is narrated by the author clearly, but without any special flair. I have no complaints about the narration.

I liked this book because it clearly explains the details of both the Rwandan and Burundi genocides. Deo comes to work with Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, about which the author has written another book: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. Here the focus of the book is set on what path we must follow into the future. This I liked too. That is why I picked up the book. Where will the future take us?