1. Tracy Kidder gets his title, Strength in What
Remains, from a poem by William Wordsworth; the
passage is included at the beginning of the book. What did the
poem mean to you before reading Strength in What
Remains? Did the meaning of the poem change after you
read the book? If so, how?
2. While making his escape to the United States, Deo views
New York as a land of promise and opportunity. But when he is
first in New York, living in Harlem and then Central Park, he
feels lonelier than ever before. He thinks, "It was clear that
to be a New Yorker could mean so many things that it meant
practically nothing at all" (p. 32). What does he mean by
this? How does his opinion of New York- and thus the United
States- change over the course of the book?
3. Deo realizes that he is in the "bottom to that near-
bottom" (p. 22) of the social hierarchy in New York, yet he
makes certain that no one observes him entering Central Park
at a late hour, as he does not want to be labeled homeless.
What do these two facts, along with his initial struggles to
adjust to and learn about urban American life, tell you about
Deo's character? Can you imagine yourself feeling as he does
or do you think his reaction is
4. Kidder writes, "When Deo first told me about his beginnings
in New York, I had a simple thought: 'I would not have
survived' " (p. 161). Do you think you could have survived
what Deo survived? Why or why not?
5. How do Deo's experiences on the run in Burundi compare to
his experiences in New York City? What are the common themes?
How do the dangers differ? How does human compassion figure in
these two journeys?
6. From the moment Deo arrives in New York, he finds people
who are willing to help him. Discuss the ways in which
Muhammad the baggage handler, Sharon, Nancy and Charlie, and
James O'Malley helped Deo get on his feet. What do you think
it was about Deo that compelled these people to help him? What
was it about them? Would he have survived without
7. Paul Farmer is another person who has had a large influence
on Deo. Describe Deo's relationship with Farmer and the ways
in which they change each other's lives.
8. While a student at Columbia, Deo recalls that in Burundi,
he "had seen people pushed away from hospitals, not only when
they had no money, but sometimes just because they were dirty
and smelled bad. Now news that a relative was ill would keep
him worrying for days, imagining that his mother or a sibling
might even now be receiving such treatment" (p. 109). What
does this statement tell you about Deo's thoughts and goals
while studying biochemistry at Columbia? Why do you think Deo
maintained this perspective? How does this sentiment
complement, reflect, or contrast with the views and concerns
of Paul Farmer or of Partners in Health?
9. While Deo is working with Farmer and Joia Mukherjee at
Partners in Health in Boston, Joia remarks, "Offensive things
are so offensive to him. Understandably. It's just like he has
no skin. Everything just penetrates so much" (p. 156). What does
Joia mean by this? Do her words ring true?
10. Throughout his life, Deo struggles to trust himself, other
people, and even God. As he tours Columbia with Kidder in
2006, he says, "I do believe in God. I think God has given so
much power to people, and intelligence, and said, 'Well, you
are on your own. Maybe I'm tired, I need a nap. You are
mature. Why don't you look after yourselves?' And I think he's
been sleeping too much" (p. 186). Discuss this quote in
relation to Deo's views on faith.
11. The power of memory is a theme that runs throughout
the book. In the Introduction, Deo explains that people in the
Western world try to remember the tragedies of their pasts,
while people in Burundi try to forget them. Trace Deo's
evolution as he journeys from Burundi to Rwanda to the United
States and back again, focusing on the changing role memory
plays in his life.
12. Joia makes an interesting point about how different people
deal with horrible experiences like genocide. Her own father,
having survived massacres during the partition of India,
refused to talk about what he saw. Instead, he lived a life of
hypochondria, always fearing that death was just around the
corner. Deo eventually "let it spew out all the time" (p.
157), while an Auschwitz survivor Kidder meets also chose
silence until he reached old age. The survivor tells Kidder,
"The problem is, once you start talking it's very difficult
to stop. It's almost impossible to stop" (p. 160). Discuss the
values and weaknesses of each coping strategy. Do you think we
have control over how we process our memories and
13. Toward the end of the book, as Kidder reflects on what he
has seen and learned through Deo, he thinks about the value
of "flush[ing] out and dissect[ing] one's memories" (as
Westerners are prone to do) and wonders whether there is such
a thing as "too much remembering, that too much of it could
suffocate a person, and indeed a culture" (p. 248). After
reading Deo's story, what do you think? Do you agree that
"there was something to be said for a culture with a word like
gusimbura" (p. 248)? Why or why not?
14. In Burundi, village elders would say, "When too much is
too much or too bad is too bad, we laugh as if it was too
good" (p. 36). What does this saying mean? How can it be
applied to Deo's upbringing? How does its meaning affect Deo's
views, particularly toward American life?
15. Deo relates that in Burundi, people's names tell stories, or
serve as social commentary about the circumstances of the
person's birth or social position. These names, he says, are
amazina y'ikuzo, "names for growth" (p. 34). Why is
this concept so important in Burundian society? Are the names
of the Burundian individuals to whom Kidder introduces us
16. Against his family's wishes, Deo returns to Burundi often
after his initial escape. Why does he go back so many times?
Discuss the relationship he has with the people of his
country, and why he tells Kidder that no matter how tempting,
he cannot "reject all the obli - gations of family, and even
of affection, and . . . become a loner in the world, never
setting foot in one's old life" (p. 208).
17. When Deo was first in New York, Kidder writes, "He told
himself, 'No one is in control of his own life' " (p. 164). Do
you believe no one is in control of his own life? Do you think
Deo believes it, at the end of Kidder's book?
18. Deo accomplishes the seemingly impossible, working with
Paul Farmer and Partners in Health to set up his dream clinic
in Kigutu in 2008. The clinic has become "a place of
reconciliation for everyone, including [Deo]." As he tells a
woman who comes to the clinic and apologizes to him for what
he assumes is violence against his family during the war:
"What happened happened. Let's work on the clinic. Lets put
this tragedy behind us, because remembering is not going to
benefit anyone" (p. 259). How does Deo reach this point in his
life? What do you think is next for him?