Summary (from the publisher): In the summer after graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was preparing, as they say in commencement speeches, to enter “the real world”. She had fallen in love and moved to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a war correspondent. The real world she found, however, would take her into a very different kind of conflict zone.
It started with an itch—first on her feet, then up her legs, like a thousand invisible mosquito bites. Next came the exhaustion, and the six-hour naps that only deepened her fatigue. Then a trip to the doctor and, a few weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday, a diagnosis: leukemia, with a 35 percent chance of survival. Just like that, the life she had imagined for herself had gone up in flames. By the time Jaouad flew home to New York, she had lost her job, her apartment, and her independence. She would spend much of the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and chronicling the saga in a column for The New York Times.
When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward—after three and a half years of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant—she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins. She had spent the past 1,500 days in desperate pursuit of one goal—to survive. And now that she’d done so, she realized that she had no idea how to live.
How would she reenter the world and live again? How could she reclaim what had been lost? Jaouad embarked—with her new best friend, Oscar, a scruffy terrier mutt—on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country. She set out to meet some of the strangers who had written to her during her years in the hospital: a teenage girl in Florida also recovering from cancer; a teacher in California grieving the death of her son; a death-row inmate in Texas who’d spent his own years confined to a room. What she learned on this trip is that the divide between sick and well is porous, that the vast majority of us will travel back and forth between these realms throughout our lives. Between Two Kingdoms is a profound chronicle of survivorship and a fierce, tender, and inspiring exploration of what it means to begin again.
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
As a growing nonfiction and memoir reader, Suleika Jaouad’s memoir, Between Two Kingdoms, had been on my radar and I finally added it to my TBR after reading a glowing review in Book Page a few weeks ago. I picked up a copy somewhat randomly one weekend and I’m really convinced that I read this book at the absolute right time. The book is told in two parts, the first following Suleika Jaouad’s leukemia diagnosis in her early twenties, when she had just recently graduated from Princeton and was starting her first full time job and relationship in Paris. The book then details her diagnosis and treatment, her relationship with her boyfriend and family, her column for The New York Times based on being a young adult with cancer, and her life overall throughout. The second half of the book then transitions into Suleika’s recovery, in which she decided to complete a 1,500 mile road trip with her dog visiting the many people she had connected with over her treatment.
I connected to Suleika Jaouad’s story so much and her messages surrounding life and relationships because I am now 23 and just beginning my career, which again was when Jaouad was diagnosed with cancer. I think this book is excellent for all readers of ages and different experiences, but I definitely want my fellow recent college graduates to read this one, as she has so many relatable and really eye-opening messages surrounding being in your twenties and careers and relationships, obviously through a very unique and honestly somber perspective as she grapples with a life-threatening disease in her twenties.
I often read a fiction book while also reading a memoir on non-fiction book because the writing style & details included in the latter often takes me a longer time to read and process, but I was absolutely hooked to Jaouad’s writing and her story. The book is mostly told in chronological order, but she weaves between the present and past throughout to connect with each chapter’s overall theme or message. The book somewhat expectedly grapples with loss and death, not just as Jaouad considers her life expectancy, but because of the fellow cancer patients Jaoaud meets and becomes friends with. The book is absolutely heart-breaking, yet incredibly hopeful.
Overall, Between Two Kingdoms is absolutely a favorite book of 2021, a 2021 nonfiction favorite, and honestly my favorite memoir. I highly, HIGHLY recommend picking this book up.
Have you read Between Two Kingdoms? What are your favorite memoirs or nonfiction books? Share in the comments!