Discuss a moment you find to be poignant. What has Kidder, by the way of Deo’s story, allowed you to take away from the book because of this moment?
As soon as I saw the word poignant in the prompt, there was one scene in my mind: Deo was sitting in the banana grove and looking at the baby in its dead mother’s lap. With this scene, Tracy Kidder wants to show us the evils of genocide in a way that sticks with us. If he just told that genocide is brutal, we would not understand the extent of brutality it involves and could not make a personal connection. How many of us has ever experienced a genocide after all? Yes, we cannot fully comprehend genocide because we had never gone through it, thank God, but we can understand the common experiences of motherhood, death, pain, and separation in this scene. Therefore, we can connect with the characters, feel for them, and imagine ourselves in their shoes. Thus, we gain an understanding of how brutal genocide can get and how much despair and sorrow it can lead to.
One of the most poignant and crucial moments in “Strength in what remains” is when Deo talked about his arduous journey in Burundi to his friends. Earlier in the book, he hadn’t had the courage to say anything about the heart-stricken genocide in his country: he told it to none, shared it with none, hiding all the pain in his heart. However, after a while, he could finally somehow talk about his journey in Burundi, and once he started he couldn’t stop his emotions from flowing out unconsciously. It is impossible not to think about how emotional Deo was when he finally overcame his biggest fear in life – the fear of going through a genocide, the fear of leaving his home and family behind without knowing what awaits him – and decided to share it with everyone. Moreover, this intrepidity encouraged us readers to share our stories, even the most personal ones, to at least someone since sharing not only helps us overcome the nervous feeling of hiding something but also somehow diminishes our pain.
I thought that the description of Deo’s childhood in Burundi was especially poignant, coming as it does immediately after the description of his first weeks in New York City. Even though his childhood was difficult, the contrast between the two makes Burundi seem idyllic. Usually, we as Americans would be inclined to believe that our country is a far better place to live than a largely impoverished African nation. By putting this contrast into the book, Kidder makes it clear from the start that Deo’s perspective is very different from ours. Later in the book, this section describing his family counters the horror of the genocide and stands as a marker of a simpler time, in both Deo’s mind and in the readers’. Kidder builds sympathy for Deo and his family, while at the same time explaining the different culture and the very different way his family functions. In a culture where the humiliation of borrowing salt from a neighbor is too much to bear, it’s very clear how terrible the shame of being homeless in New York City is for Deo.
On page 125 -126, Deo reaches a point that seems to be the epitome of rock bottom. He is on the run, witnessing horrors right and left: decapitated heads floating down a river, entire families killed in their own home, and dogs eating away at human remains. By the time Deo reaches a certain banana grove littered with human bodies, he is hard pressed to move on. That’s when he sees it: a baby, still alive, idling on top of his dead mother. This juncture is where the reader truly realizes the gravity of Deo’s situation. In literally any other time or place in the world, all human beings with the slightest trace of morals would save that baby. Deo, unfortunately, can not. At this point, I found it hard to fathom how any person could possibly keep on going. The amount of emotional stress Deo was under is unimaginable. And yet, he did, and is a successful writer and storyteller to this day. This reminds me of a quote by George S. Patton, “The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” Deo’s story showed me there is no limit to how far one can fall, but that one can always make the climb back to the top.
“Then he saw the baby…And it was looking right at Deo. He stared right back at it for a long moment. The baby wasn’t crying. “It must be wondering where it is,” he thought. It must be terrified like him. But he couldn’t help the baby. He couldn’t even help himself.” (p. 125-126)
Kidder uses this baby as the symbol for the desperate tone of the book. Deo knows that he can’t save the baby because he is trying so hard to save himself. This point in the story still stood out to me when I read this prompt because it has so much meaning to it. When Deo ran away from the banana grove, it is a heart breaking moment for us as the readers and obviously for him as well. This scene shows how desperate the situation is in Rwanda and Burrundi and for Deo. Nothing seems to be able to resolve their problems. Women die to save their children, and people are killed mercilessly. Genocide is a truly terrible thing. Innocent people lost their lives to madmen, and those who are still alive were traumatized by the horrific sights in the areas surrounding them. Seeming the baby is just one terrible and alien sight Deo sees during his long escape. This moment leaves a lasting impression because as the reader you are exposed to the terrible nature of this specific genocide and genocides in general.
When Deo was little, much like many other little children he was oblivious to race and segregation. In Burundi there were two different races, Hutus and Tutsis, “Hutu” Deo said. “What is that”… He took his question to his father again. “Which are we?” “Tutsi” his father said” (37) This passage is rather early in the book, when the reader does know the level at which the conflict between the Tutsis and Hutus really is. Kidder is foreshadowing the future of Burundi by having the character ask this question. Kidder what the reader to understand that even before the revolution, the conflict and aggression was very high. When Deo first inquires about the Hutus, his father gets furious and tells him to be quiet and not say anything. This proves those years before the revolution, it was forbidden to even speak of the conflict. This quotation is vital to comprehension of the reader for the rest of the book.
In Tracy Kidder’s text, Strength in What Remains, the reader experiences the endless horrors and endeavors that Deo faced. There is one particular passage in the book, the second paragraph of page 119, where Deo is on the run from the rebels in the vast Burundian and Rwandan countryside, and he stumbles upon a village, or what was once a village. The passage opens with “Birds were beginning to sing, as the always did an hour or so before samoya” (119). This sets a peaceful tone for the passage, which is altered in a remarkable fashion. He arrives cautiously but sees that the Hutu rebels have razed the whole village. As he ventures throughout the ruins, he enters one of the huts. Inside the hut, “Bodies lay on the dirt… Three children, a man, and a woman.” (119). The next part of this passage goes into spine-chilling details. This passage may have a touch of symbolism or even a common theme throughout the book for Deo. This theme could be a rapid change of luck or even quality of life for Deo. The passage opens with the birds singing as always, a seemingly blissful event. Then Deo peers into a hut where a family has been brutalized and slaughtered. The passage relates to the story itself. Deo starts as a refugee that travels to America with practically nothing but somehow goes to Colombia and reaches his dream of opening a clinic in Kigutu. Not only is this passage moving and indescribably horrible, but it also relates to a central theme of Deo’s experiences.
Tracy Kidder’s book Strength in What Remains follows the life of a lost man who finds his calling. The lost man is Deo. Early on in the book, Deo has left his country and and his family. In his mind, the country he is leaving will likely be unrecognizable if and when he returns. He has lost much of his family, and he has seen unspeakable horrors. His future is uncertain, and he travels alone. While waiting in an airport terminal, Deo witnesses a young man leaving his family. The tearful family watches the man leave, but Deo doesn’t understand the sadness. This is shown on page 6 of the book when Deo states, “everything was a crisis, and nothing that wasn’t a crisis mattered. He thought that if he still had that much family left, he wouldn’t be boarding airplanes.” Because of the extreme atrocities Deo has seen, he cannot empathize with the family’s tearful goodbye. To him, that isn’t close to enough sadness to warrant tears. This passage sets up of the major theme of the cultural differences that separate Deo from the People he meets during his travels away from Burundi. It is impossible for these people to share Deo’s perspective because they haven’t lived Deo’s life, and they haven’t witnesses the same events. This makes Deo’s eventual success even more impressive, because he has come from a place where conventional, every-day sadness takes the form of genocide and war.
They talked most of the way to New York. But when they got up from their seats, she turned to him and said, “Au revoir.” When he reached Immigration and took place at the end of one of the lines, he spotted her again. She was standing in another line, pretending not to see him. He looked away, down at his sneakers, blurred by tears. The spasm passed. He was used to being alone, wasn’t he? He didn’t care what happened to him anymore, did he? And what was there to fear? What could the man up ahead in the booth do to him? Whatever it might be, he’d already seen worse.” (Page 9)
This passage is very melancholy to me, because it rings very clearly with all of the loneliness and pain Deo brought with him going to America. The only “friend” he really made on his peregrination to the United States abandoned him once he got there, so much in fact that she pretended Deo didn’t even exist when they reached the immigration booths. It sort of envisaged Deo’s future of loneliness plagued by his post-traumatic stress. It’s really evocative secondly because I’m sure most people can relate this his problem. We all try making friends in new places, and even if they help us out and appear amicable enough, sometimes, they just aren’t that great a friend to have, because they leave you alone to fend for yourself, despite being so cordial earlier on. It took Deo quite some time to really find friends in the United States–it took months for Deo to find real friend, and even then, his feelings toward Sharon seemed rather ambivalent. Vexatious friends notwithstanding, Deo did find real friends via Sharon, such as the Wolfs, his lawyer, and his graduate friends at school.
Not only that, but this passage also shows how depressed Deo was from his experiences back in Africa, and how all of the pain he’d endured was so terrible that nothing terrible that could happen to him in America would ever match up to what had happened in Burundi. He doesn’t seem to care what happens to him now. All he cares about is how he’s out of Africa, and, despite being lonely and terrified, he knows that nothing that will ever happen to him will even come close to the pains of the genocide.
In Tracy Kidder’s book, Strength in What Remains, there are many sections that really stood out to me. There was numerous times where I felt inspired and galvanized. Deo is an amazing man with a wonderful story. One of my favorite quotes was, “So many people, he thought, don’t listen to the content of what you say but only to the noises you make” (Kidder 73). This quote is useful in everyday life. There are so many people who judge us by just looking at us, whether it’s the way we dress, our body language, or the way we speak. Certain people may not even want to approach us because of those reasons. They might think that we’re not worth talking to because we’re different. Also, if they do approach us, they may not even listen to what we’re saying. They might just be thinking about us differently. We all have had those times where someone is talking and we completely zone out. Sometimes we’re trying to listen, and other times, we really just don’t care. This quote expresses an action that everyone does, whether on purpose or not. Because of this quote, I know to not judge people by the way they look or act. And if we do end up talking to them, we should listen, whether we find it interesting or not. This quote demonstrates an important everyday life lesson.
“I know I have these unrealistic beliefs and thoughts, that the world can be peaceful, can be healthy, can be humane. But is it feasible?”(299) Deo said in Burundi in 2006 to Kidder. To me this is moving because Deo summarizes the whole theme of the book and essentially his own life dream in one sentence. In this moment, I take away that Deo has the idealism to change the world and that we, as readers, can support him. Hearing his story, feeling for him, spreading the word, donating; anything we do as readers can add to Deo’s dream. I think that that is why he agreed to let Kidder write about him, and why he was so keen to share his whole terrifying but beautiful story, from start to finish.
A poignant moment in Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains is after Deo finds a job at a grocery store. He comes to realize that Goss, his boss, will be very hard to please because Goss comes off as racist and insensitive. When Deo asks a fellow African working in the store what Goss had said about him that made everyone laugh, he replies, “For example, he says that people where you come from are starving, and that’s why they’re killing each other. So they can eat each other” (Kidder 52). Deo doesn’t believe that his coworkers are actually amused by such a derogatory joke and are most likely afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t go along with it. This moment is poignant because it shows what Deo has to endure in order to make ends meet. This exemplifies how one has to undergo hardship and hard work in order to achieve better things later in life, just as Deo did when he opened his clinic.
One memorable moment from the book Strength in What Remains was when Deo took his plane trip to exit Burundi. He first flew to Cairo, and then to Moscow, and then on to Iceland before finally reaching his ultimate destination of New York City. In this part of the story, he talks about the number of white people he sees around him, and how it is a completely different experience than what he is used to. He feels the sensation of cold for the first time, when he and his fellow passengers are waiting for the plane in Iceland. He has been cold before, but never this cold in his entire life. Deo requires some help along his journey and upon his arrival to assimilate into the American culture. On his final plane ride from Iceland to New York, he meets a woman who is fluent in French. She spends hours talking with Deo, and this helps to prepare him for what is about to come. She also helps him to feel more comfortable on his journey. Once Deo lands, he is met by Muhammad at customs. Muhammad is also a French speaking African, and he finds Deo a place to stay and shows him the ropes in the new city. Deo is very fortunate to be met by these people, for they are the ones who help ease him into his new life.
Throughout Strength in What Remains, Deo had made mistakes, from those mistakes Deo had learned, and then he allowed himself to grow from them. Though sometimes embarrassing, and even humorous to the reader, these experiences are what made him the man he is today. On page 17, we witness the account of Deo’s experience landing in Ireland and truly believing he was in New York City. Though the passage describing Deo’s confusion seems unimportant, what it really portraits is his first run in with confusion on his journey to America. Through the woman that assisted Deo at the airport in Ireland, Deo learns that people tend to be supportive, and that it is acceptable to ask for help.
Throughout Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, the reader encounters many moments that bring about a feeling of sadness. The book tells of Deo’s journey from Burundi to New York City. Many of the sad moments occur in Burundi and Rwanda. This isn’t surprising considering there was a genocide occurring in that region of Africa in the late 20th century. One particularly poignant moment is when the hospital that Deo is working at is attacked. Deo is doing his daily rounds with the patients and notices that the hospital feels empty. As he begins to inform a patient’s brother of his condition, he learns that the president has been killed and that the Hutus are blaming the Tutsis. The brother tells Deo that a war has started between the two ethnic groups. Deo’s first response is protest that soon turns into panic. The patient is in a hurry to leave as Deo tries to ask him what he should do and where he should go. The patient and his brother wish Deo good luck and leave him there alone in the hospital. After that Deo’s memory is a bit unclear but he does remember loud noises and people running and screaming. He frantically tries to find an exit but he ends up hiding under his bed. Kidder writes, “As he ran, he had to dodge other people, relatives trying to get their sick family members out of that place- young women with babies in their arms, elderly men and women being carried and half carried down the halls by frantic-looking relatives” (114). This passage stood out because it shows that the people that were attacked that day at the hospital were just civilians. It’s not like a sick elderly woman was going to pose a threat to the Hutus. The passage shows that the killings that day were purely out of hatred and should never have happened. The imagery that is put in the reader’s mind is very strong. Innocent women carrying babies and family members helping elderly relatives should never be attacked in a hospital. By including this passage in his writing, Kidder allows the reader to think about the killings that happened in Rwanda and Burundi on a much deeper level. The message that the reader takes away from the book is that much stronger because now the women, children, and sick/elderly people come to mind when Deo discusses the genocide. The reader also is impacted by the fact that the people were murdered at a hospital. Hospitals are places where people are healed and lives are saved. By targeting places that citizens should feel safe, the Hutus create an environment where no one can feel safe. Kidder includes these details to allow the reader to connect with Deo and his experience, and to sympathize and empathize with him.
On pages 127-130 of Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, Deo, out of exhaustion, sleeps and wakes up unintentionally near a Hutu group of refugees near the Rwandan boarder, and a mother carrying her baby son finds him laying on the ground when she is walking to the refuge camp. Instead of alarming the soldiers and thus killing Deo for his religious identity as a Tutsi, the woman brings him into the camp by claiming that Deo is a Hutu and she is her mother, thus saving Deo’s life. I found this part of the story to be very poignant and touching as it shows me a truly beautiful side of the human nature that is so rare amongst the brutality and cruelty that war and religious massacre has demonstrated since Deo’s escape from the hospital. The mother’s unexpected warmth is like that of a wild blooming flower in the midst of a snowy forest; a glimpse of sunlight shining through a dark and clouded sky, exemplifying virtue that brings a sense of hope and faith which grabs the reader and makes them reflect on their own life and doings, as I did after I read this part of the story. Do I ever have that effect on others? What should I do to become more of such a positive force to my surrounding?
Deo is boarding a plane from Bujumbura, Burundi, his native country, to New York. Throughout his life he has jumped at the sight of a plane, and “heard stories about planes being shot down, not only the Rwandan president’s plane back in April but others as well”(Kidder, 4). This plane, however, helps Deo overcome his fear and oblivion. It is described as the most put together, paradise-like room he has ever seen. He finds this room fascinating, and it is like an escape from what Burundi had become. This airplane symbolizes opportunity and the journey he is about to embark on. It is beautiful and exciting to Deo. It is an escape from his past, and it is something completely new to him. After describing how beautiful this room is to Deo, he thinks “If it was real, it couldn’t last”(Kidder, 4.) This shows that his life has been so incredibly hard he expects any happy moment to be taken away. I think Kidder wanted to include this description of how Deo views the plane to open reader’s eyes from the start of the book to how Deo’s life has been before his journey and to express how incredibly thankful he is for everything. This important moment represents themes of the book well, such as Deo’s struggle and true deprivation.
Though there are many poignant points throughout “Strength in What Remains”, there is one moment in particular that stood out to me personally. When Hutus were threatening to take Deo away to certain death, a random yet largely significant woman saves his life: There were a lot of people crossing the little river. The interrogators couldn’t spend all day on him. One of them grabbed Deo’s left wrist and tied a piece of black cloth around it, saying
‘Go over there to that group. We’ll question you later.’
The woman intervenes, ‘No, I’m telling you, he’s my son'” (Kidder, 129).
This moment spoke volumes to me because Kidder helped me realize how brave and vigilant some people can be, even for those whom they do not know. What stood out the most was that Deo never even knew this woman’s name, and he never saw her again. This just proves that there can be good in the world a midst such turmoil.
One poignant moment in the book Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder is when Deo lands in Ireland on his journey towards New York City. When he exits the plane and enters the airport, he immediately is lost. His first instinct is that he has arrived in New York, but little does he know, because he is too busy to even think about where he is or what he is doing because he is so distracted by the airport itself, he is really only halfway there. “It was like nothing he’d ever seen before, an indoor place of shops where everyone looked happy. And everyone was large. Compared to him anyway. He’d never been heavy, but his pants, which had fit all right six months before, were bunched up at the waist. When he looked down at himself, the end of his belt seemed as long to him as a monkey’s tail. His belly was concave under his shirt. Here in Iburaya everyone’s clothes looked better than his.” (Kidder 10) This passage is significant to this story because it shows the first time where Deo realized how bad his life really was in Burundi. The fact that he was so emaciated never really fazed him before because he had greater issues to worry about while he was on the run from the rebels. At this moment he finally realized how deprived he really was in Burundi compared to all of the“Americans” surrounding him in the airport. This then showed him that he now had the opportunity to start his life over in New York. This passage was when he realized how different his new life in America was going to be, and how overwhelming his journey towards freedom and safety would be. Deo finally faced reality in this passage, and from here on his journey could commence.
On page 94 of Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder poignantly discusses “The Hutu Ten Commandments”, a militant newspaper promoting ethnic cleansing and the domination of Hutus over Tutsis. His discussion of this paper sheds light on the increasing tensions between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi, making genocide appear increasingly inevitable, as media outlets help to facilitate the spreading of violent sentiment. His description of rising tensions based on racial differences seeks to highlight the point that Deo is caught between his expected loyalty to his ethnicity and his personal ambivalence towards the issue. Kidder’s characterization of Deo as someone who is trapped by a decision (whether to participate in genocide) of profound magnitude causes the reader to feel extreme empathy for the seemingly helpless protagonist.
“Deo watched from his desk as the two men graded his answer sheet. Then the big man looked up, smiling across the room at him. “De-oh-Gratias! Well done!” (Page 77)
This passage is a great example of Deo finally figuring his life out and getting on his way to becoming a doctor. He does this by doing exceptionally on a couple of standardized tests while in the process of applying to Columbia. The reader is most likely filled with joy that the chances are good for Deo getting into Columbia. His life seems destined to for him to finally receive a higher education to become a proper doctor and lead a happy life after all the sorrows he has been put through. This passage shows Deo finally defeating adversity in America by beating the tests to get into college. Of course, Deo could have never gotten to this point if it were not for the good will from Nancy and Charlie for giving him the opportunities. Then again, it was up to Deo to be able to seize these chances that he was given and get the most out of them. Even though this passage is relatively early in the story, one can get the feeling that things are going to work out for Deo. Later, we find out how important this is for him after what he has been through and how much he actually deserves to be where he is. This is a great example of relieving tension from the sadness that is all through this story.
“Life seemed like an endless chain of moments, as it had when he was on the run, except that most of the moments now weren’t threatening, just dreary. In the midst of the sometimes- loading up the grocery cart, standing at a service entrance- he’d be arrested by memories of himself before the wars began, a person with dreams and plans. He’d awake from memories of hope and find himself right there, waiting for another superintendent to open up the gate, and he’d sneer at himself. Those dreams were gone. Ashes.”
This is a poignant section of The Strength In What Remains as it illustrates Deo’s realization that life in America is not as prosperous as he imagined. Deo, during his time on the run, viewed America as the solution to all his problems, the end to his horrific struggles, this is the moment, however, that Deo realizes that his burdens have been carried overseas with him. As a reader, we of course root for Deo and share his desire for a happier and safer life, making this moment all the more poignant as we realize that the struggle is not over for him. His years of hard work and dedication towards achieving his dreams have been shattered. After all he has been through, he cannot rest yet, as the hardest is still to come. This allows us as an audience to appreciate the point that Kidder is making; life is not with tribulations and hardships. Life is a compilation of obstacles, and how we overcome these obstacles makes us who we are. Deo, though consistently faced with adversity manages to overcome these obstacles in an incredibly inspiring and touching way, making his successes all the more satisfying for both himself and the readers who have been by his side throughout the entire journey.
My favorite passage in the book occurs at the end of page 76 and the beginning of page 77. In this passage, Deo is talking about the trials and tribulations he has to endure to get accepted to Columbia University. In this particular passage, Deo is taking a Calculus test. When he finishes, one man thinks that he has given up but when the grader looks at his test he is impressed and congratulates Deo. Deo is eventually admitted to Columbia. I find this section very poignant because it conveys the author’s message that anything and everything is possible. Deo is an immigrant from Burundi, and he has spent his time in New York doing menial tasks such as delivering groceries to make a living. He is homeless and for the most part penniless, being forced to sleep in Central Park. Deo is a homeless man, and so it is an amazing accomplishment when he gets admitted to a prestigious university such as Columbia. If a man such as Deo, who is a poor immigrant who knows minimal English can work hard and get admitted to one of the top universities in the world then surely nothing is impossible! This is an important message that this book conveys and the passage where Deo takes the Calculus test perfectly summarizes the “nothing is impossible” theme of the book.
This passage illustrates the contrast between Deo’s expectations of New York and what he finds when he gets there. The vast separation of classes is unsettling for him. He is at the very low end of the socioeconomic spectrum and feels very alone. The language barrier causes him to be ostracized at even the lowest rung of New York society. Alone, friendless, hungry, and so poor that he “can’t even buy more than a button,” he would rather be back in Burundi (if it were at peace). As readers, we want him to be able to see his family again. The struggles that he goes through in the slums of New York are very upsetting. He is isolated, sick, and hungry. On the plane ride over he is excited to see the city, but as he stays here longer he wishes he were back home. I found this passage poignant because it puts our lives into perspective, especially with respect to how hard it can be even in a country full of opportunity, such as America. This passage also made me feel grateful for the many advantages I enjoy and sometimes take for granted.
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