Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
ISBN 13 9781861978578 March 2010 Price £15.00
Profile Books http://www.profilebooks.com/title.php?titleissue_id=656
When “Hotel Rwanda” came on the television I texted family to watch it and then I changed channels. I know I will never have the stomach to sit through the film, so when Profile Books sent this publication for a review I felt cornered.
I found myself on a journey - as though I were sitting on the shoulder of the narrator as he fled the massacre. Through his eyes, I experienced, without emotionally connecting, the horror he witnessed. How “English “ of me to experience a deep stomach churning when he describes how cows legs were hacked off and left to bleed to death over when he heard, then saw, a crying baby still clinging to the body of it mother and turned and walked away. By this point I “understood” that in order to survive, he had to be mercenary.
To say this is a compelling read does not give it justice but I can think of no better description.
When Deo arrives to the erratic safety Of New York I am immediately reminded of the African brothers I saw in Harlem, of how their cockiness was only a camouflage of armoury by which they had learnt to survive.
Deo is incredibly fortunate when he is championed by an ex-Nun and then taken in, housed and supported by two hippie Manhattanites in returning to education, and working towards his long term (and eventually achieved) profession as a doctor.
I never once left Deo’s side as he took me with me on his sojourn but suddenly I found myself jumping from him to another person. Even though none of the narrative is in Deo’s voice, I felt a jarring irritation by this newcomer.
When Deo returns to Africa, he is without doubt still terrified but determine to build his clinic and to help the people regardless of whether they are Hutus or Tutsis. This is a man who manages to befriend the right people, from the women in the village to government ministers. On subsequent trips he is in the company of the author, his co-traveller, who now seemed to me to be an intruder. In the end I Googled Tracy Kidder who is in fact a man, a white man. Whilst I am grateful to his writing skills in sharing Deo’s survival with me, for it is indeed a survival, I just wish he had managed to keep the same pace and allow Deo his own space in the second half of the book.
Nevertheless, please do not let this put you off reading this book. Even if you have seen the film there are hundreds of thousands of tellings of “Le Crise”, and, in Deo’s own words, we should never say never again. Just look at Armenia, Bosnia, the Native Americans, the Jews, the Palestinians… the list is endless, and not one of them are cockroaches. They are all victims of a senseless, wicked massacre. When people can murder their neighbours, priests their congregation -isn’t it strange how these things have happened in countries oppressed for years by foreign rule?