Tracy Kidder has written several books, including Soul of a New Machine, about the efforts of a team of researchers at Data General to create a new 32-bit superminicomputer -- a book that won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for general nonfiction in 1982. But the book of his that consistently sells in our store, month after month after month, is his book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, published in 2003. The book tells the story of Paul Farmer who, after a somewhat unconventional upbringing, went to medical school and found his calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and bring the tools of modern medicine to those who need it most. Toward that end, he co-founded Partners in Health, a small public charity that partners with poor communities to combat disease and poverty. The organziation seeks to prove that alledgedly "untreatable" health problems can be addressed effectively, even in poor settings, including Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia. Farmer is dedicated to the philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity."
Kidder's newest book has just been published, and I think this one will challenge Mountains Beyond Mountains for popularity in independent bookstores. Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness tells the story of a young man from from the central African nation of Burundi, Deo, who arrives at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts -- after surviving civil war, ethnic violence, and genocide.
Deo ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing. Although Deo is now an American citizen, he has chosen to return to Burundi repeatedly. With the help of family and American friends, he has built a clinic and public health system amid the postwar wreckage of a rural village and founded the nonprofit organization Village Health Works. Kidder describes the book as an adventure story, a survival story, an immigrant’s story, a story of despair and determination, of evil and kindness.
As in Mountain Beyond Mountains, Kidder shows us what it means to be fully human by telling a story about the heroism inherent in ordinary people, a story about a life based on hope and forgiveness. Cheryl Strayed recently wrote a very poignant review of Kidder's new book in The Oregonian. You can read it here. Like she says, this is a book that will stick with you long after you turn the last page. And I predict that it will strike a chord with all those people who have loved Mountains Beyond Mountains.