Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday's Book

If you are sad, angry, and upset about the suicides of five young gay boys in recent days, please read this powerful post by my friend Jabacue: Time For This to Stop

Strength in What Remains
by Tracy Kidder

This book tells the story of a young man's journey. It is a story of Africa in the worst of times and the best of times; of people committing horrendous acts and of people providing incredible help. It is the story of New York City, Harlem, and Central Park, of mean people and kind people there. The young man's journey may not have ended yet, but I believe he is on the path toward forgiveness and a great future.

I read about this book and knew it got the Pulitzer Price and was written by Tracy Kidder, who also wrote Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of how Partners in Health was formed. I knew I wanted to read it, but had forgotten all about it. Then one day I opened my mailbox and there it was, courtesy of my friend Jane, once again. Thank you Jane.

The book tells the story of Deo, a young man in Burundi who wanted to become a doctor. It talks about his childhood, how he grew up a Tutsi, living among, being friends with and going to school with many Hutu boys.

In the fall of 1993, Deo worked as an intern in a hospital in a town called Mutaho in northern Burundi. One day all the doctors seemed to have disappeared from the hospital and something felt very wrong. That same day he found out that Burundi's Hutu president had been killed by Tutsis. Soon trucks full of militiamen drove up outside the hospital and men with machetes and guns stormed the hospital corridors. Deo ran to his room and hid under his bed. He was not discovered and was able to set out on his journey of escape.

Deo decided to walk to Rwanda where things at this time were calmer. Reading about his trek north is heartbreaking. I don't remember how long it took him, but as he approached the Rwanda border, he was completely exhausted and on the verge of giving up. As he slept in the rain in a banana grove, he was approached by an older Hutu woman, who after assuring herself that he was still alive, helped him across the stream that marked the border. She then helped him avoid being tagged as a Tutsi in the refugee camp by insisting that he was her son and some other measures.

The following spring, an airplane carrying Rwanda's president was shot down and he was killed. And we all know what happened next. When sheer hell broke out in Rwanda, Deo decided to walk back to Burundi. And he set out on an unbelievable journey, where all I can say is that his blessings did not desert him. You may not want to read about the things he saw and heard, I really didn't, but once I was there in the book I read on.

After Deo miraculously made it back to Burundi, a wealthy friend gave him an "in" to the US as a coffee bean salesman, bought him a ticket and gave him $200. (Security at our airports in those days was not what it is today and this was enough to enable him to enter the US.) Burundi was colonized by Belgium so Deo's second language was French. He spoke no English, maybe a few words, that's it. Several different planes took him to the US where he landed in New York City.

I know from my own experience that it's something else coming from a small country to NYC for the first time. I would like to think that after all he had been through, arriving in NYC with $200, without a work permit, with no English, with basically nothing would seem like a piece of cake to Deo. Of course it wasn't, but Deo's blessings continued as the custom's people fetched an airport employee to interpret in French. This man was from Senegal and he offered Deo a place to stay and then taught him the basics of how to survive in the city.

After that Deo got a job delivering groceries. He met some mean-spirited people, but what is so fascinating about Deo's journey is that goodness always prevails. He met the right people at the right time, he got the help he needed, he graduated from Columbia University, and he went back to both Rwanda and Burundi. By the end of 2007, Deo had accomplished his goal to build a health clinic in Kayanza, Burundi. Of course many people helped him accomplish his goal. You meet so many good people in this book that you come to understand that even though terrible things happen, there are so many good and kind people who want to help to make this world better.

This is a quote from the last page of the book: A villager said, "Many others went abroad, but most of them have not returned to show us how we can improve our situation." Coming back and helping, I believe enabled Deo to move forward in his life.

What a journey and what a book! You know I don't recommend many books here, but this one is a MUST READ.

There is a fascinating chapter at the end of the book, called Some Historical Notes that talks about the history of the Hutus and Tutsis and of Burundi and Rwanda. While attempting to explain what happened, the author quotes other authors and scholars who are also attempting to explain what caused the genocide in Rwanda. I have no comment on their efforts. All I want to say is that I came away from reading this book with hope for the future of the human race. 


  1. Thank you Inger. I don't know if I have the intestinal fortitude to read this book, but I think I will try.

  2. Thanks for this post and the link to your friend's post as well. We can all be more mindful of tolerance and acceptance in this world - no matter what the race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, size, shape or anything else that makes us different from those around us. :)

  3. Hi Inger,
    Sounds like a wonderful book. I have SO many books on my "to read" list, but this one sounds like it should make its way to my top 5. Human cruelty and people with no conscience has always baffled me so when I hear/see it, I try that much harder to be kind to people...I guess it's my attempt to make up for the mean people in the world.

  4. This sounds like a great read, Inger! I will add to my must do/read list.
    Thanks for your comment on yesterday's post. It got a lot of people thinking.

  5. It sounds like a very good read, Inger! You did an excellent job of summarizing it for us!


  6. This sounds like a miraculous story. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Thanks for the recommendation of a good book. As soon as things settle down I will check it out from the library.


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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