This is a memoir, one that tells of a family’s move from California to the more rarefied life of the Alaskan wilderness. Living in a trailer and, later, a house they build, the family struggles with harsh winters and little money, maintaining their belief in the superiority of this way of life over what the parents had begun to experience as enervating in the mainland U.S.

At the age of seven, Natalie is savagely attacked by a neighbor’s sled dog. The attack leaves her with half of her face and numerous other serious wounds. In and out of consciousness as her mother and the neighbors await an ambulance, she remembers "the dogs, and their chains, and my own blood on the snow," (50) as well as the sensation of being moved on the stretcher and hearing one of the neighbor’s children say "Natalie’s dying."

Doctors told her parents she would not be likely to survive more than two days, and this memoir tells of her survival against the odds, spending years in and out of hospitals with numerous surgeries. Kusz weaves tales of her family’s history (her father was a Polish Russian) and the intense love that sustained them throughout her healing and arduous recovery and, later, her teenage pregnancy (and decision to keep the baby) and, finally, her mother’s early death and the progress of the family’s grief and recovery.


Road Song is not only a vivid account of a life-altering trauma, but is a look into the workings of a remarkable family. Kusz’s mother and father are beautifully drawn as flawed but powerfully loving parents struggling with their own painful histories and steadfast belief in the power of family ties. Family, always at the center of this memoir, is both troubled and strong, and Kusz creates a rich tapestry in which to look at its complex dynamics.

The chapters that deal with the accident and ensuing hospitalizations, among other things, focus on the community of sick and dying children that she joins. "For most of us, it became clear that horror can last only a little while, and then it becomes commonplace" (99). Kusz’s renderings of her hospital "family" are rich and insightful, illuminating the odd world (for outsiders) of the desperately wounded and ill.

The book also gets at the complicated family responses to serious illness or death of a child. More wonderful, is Kusz’s telling of such things from the point of view of the children themselves. Samuel, a child in the end stages of leukemia, is one of Natalie’s "smallest teachers." "The rest of us could not know that Samuel would die before we woke up next morning . . . but I tend to think we would still have the picnic, would still have rubbed dandelion petals into our skin, would still have taught Samuel to play slap-jack." (102-103).



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