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Radical Survivor: One Woman's Path Through Life, Love, and Uncharted Tragedy Paperback – September 7, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Review by Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., NY Times #1 bestselling author, speaker, and consultant"

This book is the book you will not put down...Transformational...Through the most joyful and painful experiences of life, Nancy Saltzman's vulnerability, anguish, optimism, and joy reach out and hold you tight. Buy it now, dive in, and prepare for an unforgettable journey that will change you forever. Then share it with someone you cherish.

Review by C.E. Alexander, KDP Reviewer

Candor arcs above this memoir like high voltage. Given the circumstances we anticipate her immeasurable grief, but there is more: after only a prologue and opening chapter we have overheard loveplay and read transcripts of actual condolence letters. We have been privy to benign sibling rivalries and to secret anxieties, reasonable or otherwise. A younger Saltzman freewheels with her allowance, longs for straight hair, and notes of her mother: "her neutral expression always screamed disappointment."

 

Saltzman necessarily skims across her youth: cleaning rat cages at Indiana University, navigating her early career, growing apart from her first husband. When she meets Joel Herzog he is stringing a tennis racket, and the reader momentarily confuses the fibers with sinews in his forearms (her descriptions are often frank and unedited: "Muscular biceps.... Nice butt. Powerful calves.") Joel is the grandson of Auschwitz victims who sent their son to England upon the Nazi invasion of Austria. Perhaps the book's brisk pace is a disservice to this part of Joel's back story, but the narrative slows considerably when her husband and, in time, their children appear on-page. The tickles, the diapers, the burgers and fries give the story far more weight than do the degrees and awards. Saltzman invites the reader into her past as she would a trusted friend. We fall in love with her family and begin to dread the approach of Part Two, with its ominously-titled first chapter "Aftermath."

 

Despite the name, Radical Survivor is not a textbook on grief. Saltzman dedicates significantly more space to her descriptions of married life and motherhood than she does to widowhood. There are few coping prescriptions and no how-to sections. Those hoping to find plugs for transcendental meditation, power yoga or detox nutrition will be let down. Indeed, one might go as far to say that Saltzman is built for survival: in the wake of breast cancer, hysterectomy and tragedy, she returns to her job a mere week after losing her family. She becomes a well-known speaker and celebrated educator, receiving Colorado's National Distinguished Principal of the Year, the Milken Family Education Award, and the American Cancer Society's Sword of Hope Award. (One of the best examples of the book's affable, informal tone refers to that latter recognition, which her mother misunderstands and repeats as: "The Sort-of Hope Award?")

 

Radical Survivor is grueling at times, but it deserves to be. Harrowing drops lead to brief glimpses of recovery, and further plunges. And Saltzman keeps far more humor and optimism than we would expect. The author never turns a phrase and does not intend to. The book works because of its intimacy, not in spite of. There is no frigid literary distance between writer and audience, no hipster soundbites. Indeed, the story forbids it. As mentioned above, this is a casual evening between two friends, and sometimes during these conversations the subject matter turns altogether tragic. The last full chapter is titled "Perspective," and the lesson is well-earned.

 

Review by Shari Caudron, award-winning author of Who Are You People? and What Really Happened

Saltzman's story, told with honesty, insight, and laugh-out-loud flashes of humor, teaches us that it is possible to embrace life in the wake of tragedy. Let her show you the great staying power of joy, strength, grace, and love.

Review by Alexandra Bowie of the Brooklyn Bugle

By the time she was in her early forties, Nancy Saltzman had a thriving career as an elementary school principal and lived in a happy family with her husband, Joel, and two sons. She had survived two bouts of breast cancer, and the surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and more surgery that went with them. She was organizing support groups for women newly diagnosed with cancer, and beginning to make a name for herself as an inspirational speaker. The boys were athletes like their father, playing tennis, hockey and several other sports. Joel owned a popular tennis shop.

It was a busy, full life, until it wasn't: on September 24, 1995 Saltzman s husband, Joel, and two sons, Adam and Seth, ages 13 and 11, were killed when the small plane they were riding in crashed.

How do you go on living when your family is killed?

The first week Saltzman was busy responding to the crisis, choosing among burial options, collecting belongings, and, unbelievably, speaking at the memorial service. She writes, "I gathered strength from the thousands of people who came to mourn and celebrate those three lives with me. I wanted desperately to hold on to the Joel, Adam, and Seth I knew, and believed I could do so by talking about them."

Whether to go on living wasn't the question. As she writes, "I dreaded the dark passage ahead, [and] I knew the only way out was through it. Normal wasn't remotely possible, but I needed to find whatever the new version of it was."

She returned to work a week after the crash.

Saltzman describes vividly how she drew on reserves of strength, from her family, her friends, her community, and the love she and her family had shared. [Full disclosure - Saltzman s family and my family are friends.] It is not as if she didn't look back.

Seth had always picked out her shoes; as she got dressed she tried to guess which pair he might have chosen. She didnt greet parents in the parking lot when she returned to work, just went straight to her office.

Saltzman is honest and unflinching as she describes the difficult, pain-filled days and long nights. But somehow they passed.

She shares letters that she wrote to her family, both before and after the crash, along with memories and photographs and the boys diaries. Her friends helped, and her dogs. She kept showing up, and in doing so, showed everyone around her what to do.

Eventually she wrote this moving book, and explains how she went on with her life. (The book provides something of a catalogue of what people say when they don't know what to say, including pointlessly stupid and painful things.)

Saltzman mixes the mundane with the morbid, and the painful with plenty of humor. Hers was a smart family, and this book is often very, very funny. This moving book is about life, about resiliency, and about surviving.

What is Saltzman's prescription? Well, you have to read the book, but love, kindness, and humor come in to it, along with pragmatism, and what she calls mini-vacations. Stamina and fortitude help too. And humor.

From the Author

Several aspects of this book make it unique among memoirs:

* The author has experienced an extraordinary number of life challenges: two bouts of breast cancer (resulting in a mastectomy and hysterectomy) before she turned forty; the loss of her entire family--husband and two young sons--in a small-plane crash when she was in her early forties; the death of her best friend in an auto accident; the premature death of her sister; losing her father to cancer and her mother to Alzheimer's Disease. 

* The story is uncommonly open and honest about what one must go through in a catastrophic accident resulting in multiple deaths. Yet it also shares the strength that can be mustered when necessary, and showcases one woman's remarkable resilience in the face of ultimate loss.

* The book is enriched by letters to the author interwoven with narrative throughout the book. Most of the notes were received after the death of her family, but some are mementos from her husband and entries from her sons' journals before they died. These sentiments give the book added depth and poignancy. 

* Unlike many books about surviving personal tragedy, this is not a story of religious wakening or reliance on faith. The author finds her way within and by herself, with the support and love of friends and family. Religion is not ignored, but is also not the foundation of her strength.

* Despite the sadness of the book's key circumstances, there is also a surprising amount of humor, joy and hope. As one reviewer noted, "Saltzman mixes the mundane with the morbid, and the painful with plenty of humor."

In short, this is a truly unforgettable book that is already finding a wide audience, and undoubtedly will continue to do so.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: WoWo Press; First edition (September 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0615658199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615658193
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #639,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I first heard about Nancy Saltzman's story on the day her tragedy occurred. It was incomprehensible to me how this woman could keep going after enduring such hardships. She survived breast cancer twice, only to lose her husband and two young boys instantly in a plane crash. Here is an inspirational story of love, survival, hope, compassion, and even humor. Our book club loved it; I will gladly share this book with my daughters and friends. You will be a better person after reading, experiencing, and sharing this brave woman's journey!
MAUREEN BIGGERS
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Format: Kindle Edition
I was unprepared as to how much this memoir would affect me. The saying that "the true stories are the best stories" applies to this book, with its poignant moments of joy, love, and sorrow. The author has done a tremendous job of bringing her story to life with the use of personal notes and photographs, and her writing style makes the book a real page-turner, which you can't say about a lot of memoirs! There is a lot of humor here, too, and you walk away from this book feeling a renewed sense of strength and awe.

This is a great book for breast cancer survivors, anyone who has lost a loved one, and, well, everyone. Nancy's story made me appreciate my life, and I'm glad she took the time to put her incredible story on paper. Highly recommended!
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Format: Paperback
This book has been making the rounds of my friends, and I didn't know what to expect. I knew that the author had been through a lot of tragedy, but everyone was saying it was actually very positive, and they couldn't put it down. I was skeptical (don't usually read memoirs) but decided to try a couple chapters and see what I thought. Well, I was hooked after the first chapter. The author is a very good writer, and I really liked a couple of things that set it apart. One was the use of letters she received from her friends and family, mostly after the main tragedy she lived through. They were really a wonderful addition and also helped me understand how all that outpouring of love helped her get through. I have made a promise to myself after reading this that I will always write a note when someone I know loses someone they love. It really does make a difference! The other is how honest she is about her process of grief, which is very helpful, too. I plan to keep this book around for when I'm facing hard times. And as strange as it may seem, it's funny, too. Just goes to show how important a sense of humor is, even in the most difficult times. I love discovering great books that aren't best sellers--yet, at least! I wouldn't be surprised if someone makes this one into a movie.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Candor arcs above this memoir like high voltage. Given the circumstances we anticipate her immeasurable grief, but there is more: after only a prologue and opening chapter we have overheard loveplay and read transcripts of actual condolence letters. We have been privy to benign sibling rivalries and to secret anxieties, reasonable or otherwise. A younger Saltzman freewheels with her allowance, longs for straight hair, and notes of her mother: "her neutral expression always screamed disappointment."

Saltzman necessarily skims across her youth: cleaning rat cages at Indiana University, navigating her early career, growing apart from her first husband. When she meets Joel Herzog he is stringing a tennis racket, and the reader momentarily confuses the fibers with sinews in his forearms (her descriptions are often frank and unedited: "Muscular biceps.... Nice butt. Powerful calves.") Joel is the grandson of Auschwitz victims who sent their son to England upon the Nazi invasion of Austria. Perhaps the book's brisk pace is a disservice to this part of Joel's back story, but the narrative slows considerably when her husband and, in time, their children appear on-page. The tickles, the diapers, the burgers and fries give the story far more weight than do the degrees and awards. Saltzman invites the reader into her past as she would a trusted friend. We fall in love with her family and begin to dread the approach of Part Two, with its ominously-titled first chapter "Aftermath."

Despite the name, Radical Survivor is not a textbook on grief. Saltzman dedicates significantly more space to her descriptions of married life and motherhood than she does to widowhood. There are few coping prescriptions and no how-to sections.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I just finished reading this book. Nancy was a professor of mine at UCCS during my student teaching.
I recently found out that my 66 year old mother who is suffering memory loss and ovarian cancer is terminal. Her oncologist feels that her cancer is matastisizing at a rate beyond treatment. This book helped me realize that I need to make the most of the time I have left with my mom, and enjoy every minute of that time.

To Nancy: thank you for being a mentor to me during my student teaching, and (unknowingly) now as I make the most of these months with my mom.
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Format: Paperback
How did Nancy survive the loss of her husband and two young sons in a plane crash? How did she survive breast cancer? How did the lessons of her childhood, family, community, career and education all hold her up and help her resist the monstrous pull of falling.
Or: How to write a condolence letter? How to talk to people about their personal tragedy. How to tell children what they need to know about illness and death.
Read this book and be lifted, educated and inspired.
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