Sunday, December 19, 2010

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Deo escaped from the genocide in Burundi and Rwanda.  He arrives in New York, speaking no English, with hardly any money, having experienced horrible atrocities and believing his family is dead.  After languishing for several months in a slum, Deo meets several people who begin to help him take control of his life in America.  As he struggles to get a green card, he dreams of resuming his medical studies and returning to Burundi to build a free clinic for his people.

I'm finding this hard to write about.  And it was also hard to read.  I didn't really know about what happened in Burundi.  I had learned about the genocide in Rwanda, but I didn't know about Burundi.  How many other things are happening in the world that I don't know about?  That we won't hear about until many years afterward, and wonder how we could have missed them.

So it was hard to read.  It was also very well done.  Tracy Kidder is a much better writer than speaker.  It wasn't even especially graphic, although some of what Deo experienced is described.  But even those descriptions were hard.  It's just such a mind bogglingly awful thing.  And I was wondering along with Deo how such a thing could have happened, while also thinking, "So easily.  It happened so easily."  In a place of such extreme poverty, where there is no hope for change, where the life expectancy is in the early 30s, how easy to search for a scapegoat for all the troubles.   But such large numbers of people were killed; it's hard to wrap your head around.  It was hard to process.

I was glad that Kidder took some time to look at what the supposed "differences" between Tutsi and Hutu are.  There aren't differences, really.  At one point there might have been but there was so much intermarrying that any stereotypical ethnic looks or true differences and all but disappeared.  The differences had mostly been invented by Belgium as a means of control when they held the country.  Kidder explained an incredibly complex situation in simple enough terms that someone like myself, who knows very little about the situation, was able to get a general understanding.

There was hope in the book.  Deo was able to build the clinic, after many years, and the clinic helps hundreds of people a day.  But while things are more stable in both Rwanda and Burundi, there's still the extreme poverty and corruption of before.  Read it, even though it might be hard.  It is inspiring to read about people who really make a difference in the world, while also making me feel like I will never be able to make sure a difference.

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