I just finished reading Tracy Kidder’s new book Strength in What Remains and it’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read this year. It reads like Mountains Beyond Mountains and the story is just flooring – shocking, horrifying, and reaching the depths of empathy. The story of Deo is real, but almost unimaginable to an average American who has never been to Africa. I really didn’t know much about the African nation of Burundi and now I see a glimpse into the lives of the ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, divided groups that have caused conflicts in Burundi and Rwanda. Kidder patiently and clearly explains the basics of the bloodletting conflicts in both Rwanda and Burundi, giving examples of the similarities and major differences between the countries and their internal conflicts. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with atrocious health and living conditions. The people have all but given up through seeing and living through atrocities that many of us have never experienced and could almost not imagine. Partners in Health (PIH) is now involved in both Burundi and Rwanda and through health, perhaps the lives of these people may be improving. Awareness of these countries is key here. Some facts and statistics on Burundi from the WHO are as follows:


  • Total population (in 2008): 8,173,000
  • Gross national income per capita (PPP international $):  320
  • Life expectancy at birth m/f (years): 48/50
  • Healthy life expectancy at birth m/f (years, 2003): 33/37
  • Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births): 181
  • Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population): 461/412
  • Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2006): 15
  • Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2006): 3.0

Additional Statistics:

  • Population (millions) in the year 2005: 3.7 (males) 3.9 (females) 7.5 total
  • Life expectancy (years) in the year 2004: 45
  • Under-5 mortality (per 1,000 live births) in the year 2004: 190
  • Adult mortality (per 1,000) in the year 2004: 593 (males) 457 (females)
  • Maternal mortality (per 100,000 live births) in the year 2000: 1000
  • Source: World Health Statistics 2006, Mortality Country Fact Sheet-Burundi


  • Mortality profile
  • HIV/AIDS treatment
  • Tuberculosis
  • TB prevalence and incidence
  • HIV prevalence

The people are dealing with:

  • Chronic diseases
  • Anemia
  • Child malnutrition
  • Undernutrition and overweight
  • Access to water, sanitation
  • Alcohol, tobacco consumption

This book would make an excellent choice for your book group. The PIH has a special program to promote the book and the understanding of the Burundi plight. Here is the PIH book group information: http://act.pih.org/page/s/bookclubsignup
Also, here is a summary of the book from the PIH website:

Tracy Kidder’s newest book tells the riveting true story of a young man and how his strong friendships and extraordinary determination help him both survive and create an organization to help those less fortunate.

Deo grew up in the mountains of Burundi, and survived a civil war and genocide before seeking a new life in America. In New York City he lived homeless in Central Park before finding his way to Columbia University. But Deo’s story really begins with his will to turn his life into something truly remarkable; he returns to his native country to help people there, as well as people in the United States.

In many ways Strength in What Remains is a natural companion for Mountains Beyond Mountains, and several of the same characters appear in both books, including PIH co-founders Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl.

Order Strength in What Remains from Amazon.com
(a portion of the sales generated by clicking this link will be donated to PIH)

As with Mountain Beyond Mountains, reading this book instills a drive for action, whether through supporting PIH or finding other ways to help.  If you are lucky enough to live in the cities where Tracy Kidder is speaking next, I would strongly encourage hearing him talk about the book. Kidder’s writing is outstanding, as always. His style can be appreciated by all and it’s no wonder that he has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes. His list of books and summaries are  available through his website at www.tracykidder.com.