Book Reviews | Reading

Book Review: Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Book Review: Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

I received this book for free from Library for review consideration, opinions expressed are 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.

Strength In What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Published by Random House
Publication Date: August 25, 2009
Genres: Nonfiction, World or cultural
Setting: Burundi
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Your Favorite Indie Bookstore* | Barnes & Noble* | Amazon Kindle* | Amazon Paperback*

An inspiring and haunting true story about a man who fled the genocide of Burundi and came to America in pursuit of a better life through education.


3* – Strength in What Remains is an inspiring and haunting true story about a man who fled the genocide of Burundi and came to America in pursuit of a better life through education.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the bestsellers 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 two hundred 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.”


My Thoughts:


Strength in What Remains is a heartbreaking story of Deo’s escape from his country plagued with genocide, war and devastation. It is amazing to me what Deo endured, what he saw in his days before he left Burundi and came to America. Deo describes how while he flew over his homeland and escaped, he was painfully aware that on the ground below his counrtymen were suffering and dying. It’s an emotional, gripping and horrifying recollection of a senseless genocide of a people, when even Deo seems uncertain why there is hatred for his kind. Is it his race or his class that he’s being persecuted for?

Upon arriving in America, Deo’s life was far from the American dream. He fled a life where he was oppressed because of his race or class and landed in a life of homelessness and severe poverty living in New York. What transpires is another test of his perseverance and his powerful love to learn and make a better life for himself and those around him. It’s an inspiring and haunting story that gave me a new appreciation for those civil rights leaders who helped secure our racial equality.

I think Strength in What Remains would make a very interesting book for a book club and those who are interested in social justice and learning about other cultures. Here’s a great list of book club questions if you are interested. It would make a great book for our Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge designed to help you learn about other countries and cultures other than your own.

Strength in What Remains is a difficult but worthwhile read about the genocide in Burundi that will shed new perspective on our own difficulties in life and finding the strength to persevere in what remains.


STRENGTH IN WHAT REMAINS by @tracykidder9 is a worthwhile read about resilience through genocide Click To Tweet

Favorite Quotes:

“I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said, ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired, I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’ And I think He’s been sleeping too much.”

“He sniffed, and said as others had before him and others no doubt would again, “I have learned never to say, ‘Never again.”


Books Like this You Might Enjoy: 

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana deRosnay – historical fiction about Holocaust in France

And the Mountains Echoed* by Khaled Hosseini – fiction set in Afghanistan

Waiting for Snow in Havana* by Carlos Eire – nonfiction about Cuban Revolution and exile of children from Cuba

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – historical fiction set partly in Dominican Republic during Trujillo dictatorship


Have you read this book or another title that inspired yet haunted you? Have you read any of Tracy Kidder’s nonfiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, happy reading!

About Tracy Kidder

From Goodreads: “Tracy Kidder is an American author and Vietnam War veteran. Kidder may be best known, especially within the computing community, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Soul of a New Machine, an account of the development of Data General’s Eclipse/MV minicomputer. The book typifies his distinctive style of research. He began following the project at its inception and, in addition to interviews, spent considerable time observing the engineers at work and outside of it. Using this perspective he was able to produce a more textured portrait of the development process than a purely retrospective study might.

Kidder followed up with House, in which he chronicles the design and construction of the award-winning Souweine House in Amherst, Massachusetts. House reads like a novel, but it is based on many hours of research with the architect, builders, clients, in-laws, and other interested parties.

In 2003, Kidder also published Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure The World after a chance encounter with Paul Farmer. The book was held to wide critical acclaim and became a New York Times bestseller. The actor Edward Norton has claimed it was one of the books which has had a profound influence on him.”

Similar Posts


  1. This looks heart-breaking but in a good way. It is always hard for me to read a book where something that has actually happened is a part of the story. I think it’s important to read these books as well, but I cannot then hide behind the ‘oh, it’s only fiction’ I can use to deal with difficult situations in other books.

    Great review, Tanya, I’ll be adding this to my TBR 🙂

    Have a wonderful day, and happy reading!

  2. Tracy Kidder, Tracy Kidder…that name sounds crazy familiar to me but I don’t believe I’ve read any of his books. This one sounds quite good 🙂

  3. This sounds fascinating, though difficult. I read Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains and really loved it (very inspiring story)…I’ve been curious about his other work and this one looks great.

    1. Yes, it is difficult to hear about the genocide and horrible situations Deo witnesses. Glad to hear you enjoyed Mountains Beyond Mountains, it’s certainly high on my non-fiction to read list! Thanks for stopping by Kelly!

    1. I love the LitLover’s site with all these great book club questions. It’s sure to prompt some good, reflective discussion. Hope you and your club enjoy it.

  4. This looks like a really good book. Thanks for pointing it out! I really loved Kidder’s writing in Mountains Beyond Mountains, so maybe I’ll pick this book up next year when I do my Social Justice Theme Read in February. 🙂

    1. It was a good book. Certainly an eye-opening read and makes me thankful for living where I do, the freedoms we enjoy and yet are so easy to take for granted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.