Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted - book cover
Professionals & Academics
  • Publisher : Random House
  • Published : 09 Feb 2021
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN-10 : 0399588582
  • ISBN-13 : 9780399588587
  • Language : English

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman's journey from diagnosis to remission to re-entry into "normal" life-from the author of the Life, Interrupted column in The New York Times

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Rumpus, Library Journal, Booklist • "I was immersed for the whole ride and would follow Jaouad anywhere. . . . Her writing restores the moon, lights the way as we learn to endure the unknown."-Chanel Miller, The New York Times Book Review
"Beautifully crafted . . . affecting . . . a transformative read . . . Jaouad's insights about the self, connectedness, uncertainty and time speak to all of us."-The Washington Post

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 countless rounds 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.

Editorial Reviews

"Here is the key to Between Two Kingdoms-Jaouad's disarming honesty. There is no self-pity in this telling and few of the expected pieties . . . Jaouad is writing about a process, a back-and-forth. In the tension between health and sickness, past and present, a new balance must be forged."-Los Angeles Times

"Jaouad's book stands out not only because she has lived to parse the saga of her medical battle with the benefit of hindsight, but also because it encompasses the less familiar tale of what it's like to survive and have to figure out how to live again."-NPR

"I was immersed for the whole ride and would follow Jaouad anywhere. Her sensory snapshots remain in my mind long after reading . . . Not only can Jaouad tolerate the unbearable feelings, she can reshape them into poetry . . . Her writing restores the moon, lights the way as we learn to endure the unknown."-Chanel Miller, The New York Times Book Review

"Beautifully crafted . . . affecting . . . a transformative read . . . Jaouad's insights about the self, connectedness, uncertainty and time speak to all of us, not only readers who've faced a life-changing-and potentially life-ending-diagnosis. . . . The timing of this memoir is just right."-The Washington Post

"When the life we had is snatched away, how do we find the conviction to live another? Between Two Kingdoms will resonate with anyone who is living a different life than they planned to live. This is a propulsive, soulful story of mourning and gratitude-and an intimate portrait of one woman's sojourn in the wilderness between life and death."-Tara Westover, author of Educated

"A beautiful, elegant, and heartbreaking book that provides a glimpse into the kingdom of illness . . . Suleika Jaouad avoids sentimentality but manages to convey the depth of the emotional turmoil that illness can bring into our lives."-Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

"In a book bubbling with ambition and impeccable skill, it is what Suleika Jaouad does with courage and secondary characters that is simply once in a generation. Between Two Kingdoms mended parts I thought were forever disintegrated."-Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

"This is a deeply moving and passionate work of art, quite unlike anything I've ever read. I will remember these stories for years to come, because Suleika Jaouad has imprinted them on my heart."-Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love

"Jaouad does a beautiful job of writing from this place of ‘dual citizenship,' where she finds pain but also joy, kinship, and po...

Readers Top Reviews

Alan WilkinsonJulie
Beautifully written and lessons for everyone not just those who are or have been unwell and their carers. Thank you.
Mum to girlies mrs s
Not really a great read for me still reeling from my 4 year old surviving a year long battle with cancer. I felt that the vivid descriptions of what the author went through were just too much as the recalled what I had to watch while holding down my 4 year old. I could not bring myself to finish it. I preferred by far watching her Ted Talk video which seemed more hopeful and less graphic.
Stephen LefrakRD
whiny narcissistic pathography. well written but totally inward focused ignoring depth of other characters and physicians almost entirely. A great example of America’s obsession with “ME”.
Such seems like a good friend telling me how, she got to this point in her life. She was honest. Her emotions and pain and joy and reflections have affected me more than other storytelling about illness. I appreciate her realization that we have to get up every day. I lost my mother to cancer. I lost many friends to illness. I am so glad she made it so far. I am so glad I read this story. There are a lot of lessons we can teach ourselves. The pandemic is challenging us to keep learning.
I felt like I had a fairly good idea what to expect, and this book is so much more. I participate in Suleika’s Isolation Journals project, so I was familiar with both her story and with her writing (via the regular journaling prompts she provides). Over the past year I have participated in a dozen teleconferences that Suleika facilitated. She is always warm, thoughtful and graceful. She has shared bits and pieces of the revision process and her excitement over the upcoming publication, but I never felt coerced or intimidated into buying the book. I bought it as a show of support, not really knowing when I would get around to reading it. Ironically, the book arrived when I was quite ill. I didn’t have the energy to do much besides read, and I polished it off in a couple of days. I think it’s usually a compliment to the author if you can say that you wish the book were longer. I found the entire thing absolutely riveting, but I do wish Suleika had shared more of her encounters on her cross country road trip. The book is every bit as much about her re-entry into “normal” life, as it is a raw and harrowing description of her cancer battle. It is also noteworthy that Suleika was lucky enough to have the best care, being treated at Sloan Kettering. Money never seems to be an issue. Also she is well enough to travel. Her disease, though devastating and with quite a few setbacks, follows a trajectory of getting better. Suleika’s depiction of her relationship with her boy friend Will, her primary caregiver throughout most of her treatment, is honest and forthright. Obviously there are a lot of stresses, particularly since the relationship was relatively new at the time of her diagnosis. Suleika freely admits that Will was selfless and giving in many ways (not perfect), and she was not always rational or sensitive in the way she treated him. Spoiler alert: the relationship doesn’t survive. I do wish Suleika had provided an update on how she thinks of that relationship now. It would be lovely to hear that she and Will have found a way to be friends. This is a great piece of writing, one of the most compelling memoirs ever. I can’t wait to find out what Suleika does next.

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