35 pages 1 hour read

Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 2000

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Summary and Study Guide


Strength in What Remains is a nonfiction book by Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction writer Tracy Kidder. It chronicles the story of a Burundian man named Deogratias (Deo). Deo, a Tutsi, survived a genocide that embroiled Burundi and Rwanda—especially in 1993-94. Deo fled the hospital where he had a medical school internship. Without any resources, he made his way to Rwanda only to be forced to escape violence there, return to Burundi, and finally travel to America.


Kidder does not narrate the book in a simple chronological format; the two parts alternate between Deo’s story before and after he escapes Burundi. In the Introduction, readers first encounter Deo on a journey with Kidder to revisit the sites of the Hutu-Tutsi atrocities of the 1990s. Part 1, “Flights,” shifts the narrative to several years earlier when Deo first arrived in New York City from Burundi. Gradually, more of Deo’s story unfold. Through the use of flashbacks, readers learn not only about the genocide from which Deo escaped, but also of the background leading up to this genocide and the continuing struggles Deo endured as he made his way as an immigrant in New York City.

In Part 2, “Gusimbura,” the author provides his first-person account of meeting Deo and the effect their subsequent travels had on him. By following the life of a single individual, Kidder—who met Deo many years after Deo’s exodus and immigration—creates a narrative to reveal to a Western reader the effects of the genocide. In doing so, he offers a vivid picture of what happened and what it was like to experience this for someone who endured it. He also illustrates the importance of the fortuitous intervention of kind and generous people—often strangers. These include Americans such as Sharon McKenna (who helped Deo as he struggled in Manhattan) and Charlie and Nancy Wolf (who took him into their home for an extended time), as well as Burundians, such as his medical school friend, Jean, and even some anonymous citizens (including a sympathetic Hutu woman).

Despite the horrific context, Deo’s story is triumphant. He becomes a student at Columbia University and later goes on to build medical clinics in his home nation. Kidder keeps the reader aware that the story as a whole is a tragedy, and that this tragedy threatens to return in nations like Burundi and its neighbors.