Strength in What Remains Summary and Study Guide

Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains

  • 27-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 18 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer who specializes in literary analysis
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Strength in What Remains Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 27-page guide for “Strength in What Remains” by Tracy Kidder includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 18 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes, discussion questions, and key themes like Structural Violence and Genocide.

Plot Summary

Strength in What Remains is a nonfiction book by Tracy Kidder. It chronicles the story of a Burundian man named Deogratias. Deogratias (Deo), a Tutsi, survived a genocide that embroiled Burundi and Rwanda, especially from 1993-1994. Deo was forced to flee the hospital where he had a medical school internship. He made his way, without any resources, to Rwanda, only to be forced to escape violence there and make his way back to Burundi and finally to America.

Kidder does not narrate the book in a simple chronological format, but instead alternates between Deo’s story before and after he escapes Burundi. We first encounter Deo on a journey with Kidder to revisit the sites of the Hutu-Tutsi atrocities of the 1990s. We then shift several years earlier to Deo’s arrival from Burundi to New York City. Gradually more of Deo’s story unfolds, and we learn not only about the genocide from which he escaped, but also the background leading up to this genocide, as well as the continuing struggles Deo endured as he made his way as an immigrant in New York City.

Kidder, who met Deo many years after Deo’s exodus and immigration, creates a story that reveals the effects of the genocide on ordinary people by following the life of this single individual. In doing so, he offers a vivid picture of what happened and what it was like to experience this for someone who endured it personally. He also illustrates the importance of the fortuitous intervention of kind and generous people. These include Americans such as Sharon McKenna (who helped him 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).

Kidder provides a rough history of the genocide as well, and even some academic concepts to help the reader understand the context for Deo’s story. These include “structural violence,” a concept that suggests that factors such as poverty and oppression create an environment in which violence can break out at any time. In spite of this 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. And yet Kidder makes us well aware that the story as a whole is a tragedy, and that this tragedy threatens to return in nations such as Burundi and its neighbors.

Aside from the notion of structural violence, the themes in this book include genocide, ethnic conflict, the plight of Third World nations (including poverty and the proliferation of preventable or curable illness), and the plight of immigrants in New York and America in general. Finally, the Burundian concept of gusimbura, the recollection of tragic events, is very important in this book.

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