Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
Published by Random House
Publication date: February 9, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Memoir, Non-fiction
Imagine being 22 years old, leaving home to live in Paris and work at a dream job, and meeting a great guy. Sounds like the beginning of a traditional chick-lit novel, right? But what if, despite all the excitement, physical problems you’d written off to stress weren’t getting better, they were getting worse? In this way, Suleika’s Jaouad’s memoir, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, reads more like a horror novel. When doctors in France can’t figure out what’s wrong she returns to the United States and is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, usually found in the elderly. Suddenly, her plans aren’t just on hold, her life is in question.
In short order, Suleika’s life is moving in reverse. She’s hospitalized for three weeks of chemotherapy, but her body doesn’t respond. What follows are onerous swathes of time, with more chemo, a clinical trial, countless emergency room visits, a highly dangerous bone marrow transplant, and an existence so painful that the only thing making it bearable are fentanyl patches. It isn’t until almost four years later that she is cured and once more finds herself at the starting line of adulthood, while everyone she knows has taken off ahead of her.
Suleika’s journey is rife with the kind of anecdotes that make people blessed with good health shudder. The friend who recommends a healer who promises he can cure her cancer, but turns out to be a veterinarian whose license has been suspended for practicing on humans. The interminable, painful tests. The side effects of aggressive chemotherapy—coughing up the lining of your esophagus. Or the prognosis that only 1 in 4 patients with this form of leukemia survive five years.
Between Two Kingdoms is not simply a detailed medical diary. The second half of the memoir is about the aftermath of being ‘cured’—a painful process in and of itself. Suleika has to step from the land of fighting off death into the land of living. She decides to separate the two kingdoms by taking 100 days to travel across the country and visit the many people she became close to, via letters, phone calls, emails, while she was sick. For her it’s a way to release the biggest experience of her life, reclaim the woman she was and discover who she wants to be.
She recognizes how the disease impacted the lives of those around her. In particular, her boyfriend, Will, who even though he’d only known her a few months, left Paris and stayed by her side throughout the years of treatments. Suleika’s gift as a writer infuses Between Two Kingdoms with honesty and self-awareness. This is a powerful story that covers not just the fight to survive but the world that opens up after the battle is won.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Random House in exchange for an honest review.*