July 4, 2010
Traveling with Pomegranates
Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
Nonfiction - Memoir/Travel
2009 Penguin Audio; Unabridged edition
Finished on 5/28/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.
An introspective and beautiful dual memoir by the #1 New York Times bestselling novelist and her daughter.
Sue Monk Kidd has touched the hearts of millions of readers with her beloved novels The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, and with her acclaimed nonfiction. Now, in this wise and intimate dual memoir, she and her daughter, Ann, a writer making her affecting debut in these pages, chronicle their travels together, and offer their distinct perspectives as a fifty-something and a twenty-something, each on a quest to redefine herself and to rediscover each other.
Between 1998 and 2000, Sue and Ann travel together to the sacred sites throughout Greece and France. Sue, newly aware of aging, caught in a creative vacuum, and longing to reconnect with her now grown daughter, struggles to find the wherewithal to enlarge a vision of swarming bees into a novel. Ann, just graduated from college, heartbroken and benumbed by the classic question about what to do with her life, grapples with a painful depression. The intimacy of travel and the wondrous nature of the places Sue and Ann visit bring forth each woman's internal struggle and provide fertile terrain for reflection and inspiration. In voices candid and lyrical, this modern-day Demeter and Persephone explore the richly symbolic and personal meaning of an array of inspiring figures and sites in Athens and Eleusis, Paris and Rocamadour, and places in between. They also give voice to a moving transformation of that most protean of human connections: the bond of mothers and daughters.
A wise and engrossing book about feminine thresholds, spiritual growth, and the relationship between mothers and daughters, Traveling with Pomegranates is both a revealing self-portrait by a beloved author and her daughter, a strong new voice, and a momentous story that will resonate with women everywhere.
I spent most of May listening to this book while driving around town in my car. As it turns out, it was the perfect book to listen to rather than read. The allusions to ancient symbols, mythology and the "sacred" began to wear on me, and it was easy to let my mind wander, momentarily tuning out the repetitious references while driving to and from work. Had I read the book, I would have certainly lost interest and given up early on. However, I did find myself wishing that I had the book to occasionally glance at and mark passages for future reference. The three maps (one of the eastern states of the U.S., one of France, and one of Greece & Turkey) would have been helpful to look at before starting each new chapter, and the following Table of Contents would have added to the points of reference:
1998 - 1999
1999 - 2000
The authors narrate alternating chapters and my initial reaction to Sue's voice was that of annoyance and displeasure. She enunciates each and every word and syllable so precisely that she sounds unnatural and awkward. Ann, on the other hand, speaks in a relaxed, yet enthusiastic voice, drawing me into her narrative more so than her mother. Kind of ironic since I'm much closer to Sue's age than Ann's. But I did relate to Sue's role as a woman approaching the second half of her life, as well as that of a mother of an adult daughter.
Sitting on a bench in the National Archaeological Museum in Greece, I watch my twenty-two-year-old daughter, Ann, angle her camera before a marble bas-relief of Demeter and Persephone unaware of the small ballet she's performing—her slow, precise steps forward, the tilt of her head, the way she dips to one knee as she turns her torso, leaning into the sharp afternoon light. The scene reminds me of something, a memory maybe, but I can't recall what. I only know she looks beautiful and impossibly grown, and for reasons not clear to me I'm possessed by an acute feeling of loss.
It's the summer of 1998, a few days before my fiftieth birthday. Ann and I have been in Athens a whole twenty-seven hours, a good portion of which I've spent lying awake in a room in the Hotel Grande Bretagne, waiting for blessed daylight. I tell myself the bereft feeling that washed over me means nothing—I'm jet-lagged, that's all. But that doesn't feel particularly convincing.
I close my eyes and even in the tumult of the museum, where there seem to be ten tourists per square inch, I know the feeling is actually everything. It is the undisclosed reason I've come to the other side of the world with my daughter. Because in a way which makes no sense, she seems lost to me now. Because she is grown and a stranger. And I miss her almost violently.
Lying on the twin mattress, I stare at the edge of light oozing under the curtain and I think about my relationship with my daughter. Congenial, warm, nice—those are the words that come to me. We've never had one of those pyrotechnic relationships that end up being written about so often and famously in books.
We've had our moments, naturally. The period of mild rebellion when she was fourteen springs to mind, a phase when the door slammed a lot. Beyond that, we had the typical antagonisms and disagreements. I suspect like most mothers and daughters we've participated in the classic struggle: the mother, trying to let her daughter go while unconsciously seeing her as an appendage of herself. And the daughter, enmeshed in her mother's power, compelled to please her and pattern herself in her mother's image, but straining at the same time to craft an identity separate from her.
Mostly, though, our relationship has been full of goodness. I would even say, given the natural constraints of adolescent girls and their mothers, we've been close. And yet I feel my relationship with Ann now exists largely on the surface. There is distance in it that I have trouble characterizing. We talk, for instance, but nothing really heart to heart. It's as if the relationship has fallen into a strange purgatory. For so long our roles were strictly defined as mother and daughter, as adult and child. But now as she leaves college, we both seem to sense some finality to this. She is changing and I am changing, too, but we don't quite know how to shift the conversations between ourselves. How to reforge our connection.
I feel traces of guilt about the growing distance between us. I toss on the bed, remembering that while she was away at school metamorphosing into the young woman I barely know, I was too busy with a book project to notice she was gone. Her leaving was not a problem. At least not in the maternal trench where these things are usually battled out. What's more, I was proud of this. I chirped to my friends: "I don't know what the big deal is about the empty nest. It's kind of wonderful, actually."
and now from Ann's point-of-view:
Catching my eye, she waves and begins to wind her way toward me through the other tourists. I wonder why I can't tell her what I'm going through. When it came to the letter back home [a letter in which Ann's application to study ancient Greek history at the University of South Carolina's graduate program is rejected], still in the drawer with my gym socks (why did I keep it, this evidence against myself?) certainly I didn't think she'd reject me. Perhaps the shame of failing is not my only reason for not talking to her about it. We've been close since childhood, but I feel a kind of partition between us now, not anger or aloofness, but a room divider that properly marks the space: this is your territory, this is mine. I did not confide intensely personal matters to her. Are the particulars of your own darkness something you describe to your mother or your best friend?
But it wasn't just the darkness I secreted, was it? Why did I give her only the postcard version of my first trip to Greece? Ran a race in Olympia, visited Athena's Tholos, saw the Charioteer, sat beside Parthenon, danced in a restaurant with some locals, bought a pretty ring...having a great time—wish you were here. Obviously she knew I'd been affected enough to want to spend my life teaching ancient Greek history, but I'd left her to sense for herself the deeper imprint those experiences made on me. Maybe it was the particulars of my soul—the experiences, feelings, and inner thoughts I held close—that I kept from her.
Final thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed listening to this memoir. In addition to the whole mother-daughter dance and travel stories, I found it interesting to learn about Sue's initial ideas for her novel, The Secret Life of Bees (a book I've read and enjoyed more than once), as well as Ann discovery of her own passion for writing. And yet, this isn't a book I want to own or read again.
Go here to listen to Ann and Sue deliver the commencement address at Scripps College in Claremont, California.