Book Review by Deirdre Sinnott
Road Song: A Memoir, by Natalie Kusz
Frigid Alaskan winters, scarce jobs, and scarcer money all face the Kusz family when they pick up and move from Los Angeles. Following a dream of more space, wood fires, and freedom from the mundane, Father, Mother, and three children sing Polish folk songs as they pull an overloaded trailer toward the great wilderness of 1960’s Alaska. Life is hard, a struggle to survive the icy fingers of harsh winter that constantly pluck at the edges of their existence. Then came “the accident.”
At seven years-old Natalie Kusz, the book’s author, arrives home to find her house locked and empty. Follow her mother’s contingency instructions she walks to a neighbor’s house. A pack of huskies are staked to chains between her and the warmth and safety of indoors. One of the dogs attacks her, biting deeply, pulling on flesh, bone and eyeball. Natalie crumples in the snow, out of the dog’s reach, until her mother and neighbor finally find her.
For a decade Natalie endures multiple surgeries, bone and skin grafts, and long hospital stays in an attempt to rebuild her face. Her family is deeply changed by the challenge of living with ongoing health issues and the money problems that go along with long-term care, but they stay united and strong in the face of adversity.
Road Song is a well-written chronicle of her family’s journey through the awful surprises and tender moments of life. Through songs, gripping oral history, and humankind’s relation to nature at its harshest, the story of one family expands to include many of the tribulations of the Twentieth Century. Several stories converge from her father’s survival in World War II Poland, to the wanderlust of 1950’s and 60’s United States, and through the excesses of drug and alcohol experimentation of the 1970’s.
All eras are deftly handled and clearly drawn, giving the book a universal feel that suits the wide-open expanse of the Alaskan permafrost.
Kusz’s book is compelling, putting readers in contact with a family that rediscovered the necessities of life: unconditional love, great acts of friendship, and unwavering respect.
Copyright © Deirdre Sinnott, 4/18/06.