And then there is the uneasy relationship between Deo and his benefactors in New York. It is never quite articulated, but subtly demonstrated over the course of many interactions, that Deo is frustrated by the suspicion that he is being shown off. There is, for example, the woman he meets while delivering groceries to her church. She is immensely helpful to the penniless immigrant, which doesn’t prevent him from feeling like a conversation piece: “He disliked spending time with her inside the rectory, because invariably a parishioner or priest would happen by and Sharon would say, “Oh, Father So-and-So, this is Deogratias,’ and then he would have to listen, half comprehendingly by now, as she told what she knew of his story, and often the third party would say he’d heard about genocides over there in Africa and that terrible thing between Hutus and Tutsis, and which was Deo, Hutu or Tutsi?”

Such moments deepen Deo’s character and highlight the inequality of nearly every one of his New York relationships. His benefactors are eager to help. Yet Deo—robbed of his family, his future, and his country—is reluctant to accept their assistance, or even to admit that he needs it. The book’s inspiration is watered by an awful lot of humiliation and suffering. But by interweaving the good and the bad, and by illustrating the almost sadistic symbiosis of the two, Kidder deftly punctures whatever self-congratulating comforts we might take from Deo’s story. And to his credit, he ensures that readers will emerge both inspired and unsettled by the story, and grateful for the convergence of its author and subject.

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Gregory Beyer is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.