I’ve been doing more reading than writing for the past several months. Journal entries, largely about Covid, social injustice, and the “craziness” of the world are updated a few times a week.
Today I’m sharing a review of Suleika Jaoaud’s Between Two Kingdoms. The writing is smooth, descriptive, honest, instructive–in a word, amazing. When flipping through the book, I came across a passage near the end in which she describes Pine Ridge Reservation in such a detailed picturesque way that her words took me back to our drive through there a few years ago. What I remembered were cows, cows, and more cows grazing beside the road. I felt depressed at the sparseness of the landscape, and my attempts to describe it are embarrassing compared to Jaoaud’s.
A brilliant and brave writer, Suleika Jaoaud takes takes her readers along several journeys: from wellness to sickness, from cancer to health, from love to loss, and a literal road trip (solitary) across the United States. The writing is honest and sometimes brutal, especially those about her hospital experiences that describe pain, nausea, fear, and isolation. There’s no “feel sorry for me” message, but rather an effort to tell the truth—no candy coating.
After her a successful bone marrow transplant, Suleika was okayed by her doctors to go on a one hundred day road trip as long as she was back in by a certain date. Having lived in New York City, she’d never driven and didn’t have a drivers’ license or car. She got the license, learned to drive, and a friend let her borrow an automobile. Off she went to visit people she’d “met” through letters. This trip followed preparatory pilgrimages to India to leave a friend’s ashes and to Vermont to think through reentering the land of the well.
She quotes Susan Sontag from Illness as Metaphor: “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.” To me, the crux of the whole book is that metaphor. Whether going from sickness to health, single to married, married to divorced or widowhood, student to graduate, we all stand at a threshold, longing to cross over yet feeling uncertain and perhaps a bit afraid of the unknown. In a podcast shortly before the paperback edition was published, I listened to an interview in which Jaoaud referred to those in-between spots, the thresholds, as liminal spaces, and immediately I saw applications to everyone’s life. We all change, and to get to the other side, we have to step over the threshold(s).
The book doesn’t have a happy ending in the traditional sense, yet the author appears to be grateful that she’s learned to move forward taking her experiences, good and bad, with her. Moving forward is different from moving on, and thanks to Suleika Jaoaud, I now see that.