Best of September (and Omni Podcast): Tracy Kidder, "Strength in What Remains"

You may well have already heard something about Tracy Kidder's new book, Strength in What Remains. Enough people have, through All Things Considered perhaps, or Ron Suskind's NYT review on Sunday that called it "one of the truly stunning books I've read this year," to put it in our top 25 books right now. We've been talking about it for months here in our cubicle warren, ever since we started passing around galleys in June, so I wasn't surprised at all when it ended up as our Best of the Month Spotlight pick for September, even though it's one of the most crowded publishing months we've seen in years.

Ever since his Pulitzer-winning bestseller, Soul of a New Machine, nearly 30 years ago, Kidder has been one of our leading long-form journalists. A few years ago, he was drawn away from his mostly local subjects (his five books beginning with New Machine were all set in Massachusetts) to profile Dr. Paul Farmer, the tireless and uncompromising international health advocate, in Mountains Beyond Mountains. Strength in What Remains is a sequel of sorts to that book. Kidder met Deo, a young Burundian working with Farmer, and a few years later, after hearing parts of his story, asked his permission to tell it. It's a hell of a story, terrible and heartening, about Deo's escape to Manhattan from the genocidal killing fields of his home country (a neighbor to Rwanda), his improbably fast rise from anonymous poverty in the city to Columbia University, and his return to Burundi to establish a health clinic in his old village, and Kidder tells it well, with a humility toward the horrors and triumphs of Deo's journey.

This won't be the first recent story of an African man escaping wars at home for the sometimes ambivalent opportunities of America to jump onto bestseller and best-of-the-year lists, but each story is its own. (For one thing, as Kidder points out below, Burundi isn't Sudan or Sierra Leone.) For another story from Africa we love this month, see William Kamkwamba's The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which Dave will be writing about in the space in a few days.

I spoke with Tracy Kidder about Deo's story, and how he chose to tell it, at BookExpo America in New York at the end of May. You can listen to our podcast here, or read the transcript after the jump.

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