There are books that make you cry ugly tears. You have to sometimes put them down and actually walk away because you need time to recover. But you can’t do that with Suleika Jaouad’s ‘Between Two Kingdoms’ because hers is a story that’s heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. You want to keep reading, though your eyes are glazed with tears and your heart shatters every now and then.
Jaouad was 22 when she was diagnosed with a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia and given a 35 percent chance of survival. Over the next four years, she went through rigorous chemotherapy, became a part of a clinical trial, and finally underwent a bone-marrow transplant that left her weak and heavily dependent on her caregivers—her parents and then-boyfriend she refers to as Will.
What makes this book different from other cancer memoirs I have read is that Jaouad doesn’t just share her experiences. Instead, she tells you what was going on in her mind while dealing with such a traumatic event, and that too when her friends were kick-starting their careers, traveling the world or settling down. It’s not about the event as much as it’s about her reaction to it.
As cancer ravaged her body, Jaouad’s spirit got stronger. She knew she might not make it but she would find little things to keep her going. One of them was the 100-day project. She decided she would write in her journal every single day, even when she couldn’t sit up. She had been considering a career as a war correspondent before cancer (B.C as she puts it) so writing was always something she enjoyed. She proposed to write a series of blog posts for The New York Times. Her column, ‘Life, Interrupted’ got her a steady fan-following and responses from other people who were going through difficult times themselves.
In Between Two Kingdoms, Jaouad hasn’t tried to present in a way to make you sympathize with her. She is selfish, needy, and even mean to those she loves. She breaks things in anger, says unspeakable things to her boyfriend when she knows he has always put her needs before his. She doesn’t sugarcoat her flaws and uses cancer as an excuse for her horrid behavior.
I would have probably given it a five-star rating had the book not felt a bit stretched in the end—where Jaouad embarks on a road trip with her dog, meeting people who had written to her and helped her in some way or the other. That aside, Jaouad’s writing is stunning and her story can inspire us to try and do--and be--our best but not be too hard on ourselves when we can’t either.
Between Two Kingdoms
What Almost Dying Taught Me About Living
Publisher: Bantam Press
Pages: 348, Paperback