I was sitting on the front row at The Tonight Show in September (2007), when Dennis Kucinich was there to promote his book. Jay Leno said that he had read the book and loved it, and Jay’s expression reflected a deep and uncharacteristic reverence. At the time, that seemed odd to me. But now that I have read the book, I completely understand the look on Leno’s face.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, the eldest of seven children, Kucinich and his family lived in 21 places—including a couple of cars—by the time he left home at 17. Without a hint of victimization, Kucinich writes a mesmerizing account of a childhood filled with a smorgasbord of violence and poverty, and how he held onto the glimmers of hope that helped him survive. His environment was punctuated with death, suicide, theft, traumatic illness, alcohol and guns; and I lost count of how many times his little brothers got hit by cars. But through his youthful faith and courage, he transformed his formative years from stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
Kucinich writes about a brief but idyllic period that his family spent on a relative’s farm in a small village in Michigan; a time when he delighted in observing the little polliwogs in the brook as they grew up to be carefree frogs. And one gets a foreshadowing of the compassionate politician he will become, one who authors the kinds of bills that would make health care available to every American, and domestic violence a thing of the past. (In contrast, it is interesting to note that George Bush’s childhood relationship with frogs was much different - he amused himself by stuffing lit firecrackers down their throats.)
Knowing Kucinich’s story, and seeing the Congressman in action now, it becomes clear that he has not only survived, but has thrived, gaining inspiration for policy from those early experiences. He successfully transformed his childhood challenges into the launching pad from which he has become a respected public servant.
Refreshingly honest and matter-of-fact, The Courage to Survive is a sobering, yet inspiring look at growing up on the outside of the American Dream, looking in—and how one young boy found his way to the other side.
Publisher: Phoenix Books (November 1, 2007)