Sunday, January 31, 2010

Traveling with Pomegranates

Any Good Books
February 2010

Thanks! to Suzanne Benton for recommending this book.

Traveling with Pomegranates: a mother-daughter story
Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor (2009, Viking)

The events of this joint spiritual memoir took place in the late 1990’s. Sue Monk Kidd was a writer, but not yet the novelist who would startle the world with The Secret Life of Bees; her daughter Ann was finishing college and trying to chart a course into adulthood. Traveling with Pomegranates braids strands of travelogue--real journeys to Greece and France--with journal entries detailing the unfolding of life changes that occurred along the way.
Ann’s school trip to Greece is a liberation for her into a more confident, independent womanhood; she connects powerfully with the image of Athena, though, as it happens, her transformation has just as much in common with Persephone’s period of wintry waiting. Sue, meanwhile, faces middle age: the approach of menopause, and her daughter’s progress toward leaving the nest, guide her to seek new icons of motherhood.
One of these is Demeter, mother of Persephone, who has her own watchful waiting to do. Another is Mary, the mother of God; Sue finds herself drawn to images from throughout Mary’s life story, and that story’s own history. All this is tricky territory for a nice Baptist girl from Georgia, and to her credit, she acknowledges it. “If I pursued [Mary], it would mean a whole compass-change in my spiritual life. There were people who would think it was fatuous, if not theologically egregious. I suppose some part of me thought so, too.” She can study her resistance to see what it’s made of, but when dreams, poems, icons, and paintings all point the same way, the time comes to quit resisting.
Ann struggles, at the same time, with conflicting possibilities for her life’s work. When she’s turned down for graduate studies in Greek history, depression swamps her, and she sleepwalks into a much less inspiring graduate program. She’s so listless on the return trip to Greece that her mother is worried. I liked this: “I’m worried she might ask me what’s wrong and I’ll have to lie, or worse, tell her the truth.” What Ann secretly wants is to become a writer, though she’s daunted by the prospect of ’going into the family business’. What if the difference in their talent is too great? She comes to realize that even if she follows in her mother’s footsteps, she will ultimately make her own journey.
Though the material is unavoidably personal and specific to these women, Traveling with Pomegranates will speak to women at many stages of our lives. What spoke most strongly to me were the ruminations on the writing life. Ann wonders, “If I was cut out to be a writer, wouldn’t I be better at it? Wouldn’t it come easier?” Like so many things in life, it’s a combination of will and grace; the grace won’t find you if you don’t sit down to the work. And her mother has new questions simmering inside: “What will I leave behind? What will become of the world? What indentation will my work make? Why do I make myself audible like this?”
It’s a risk, no question about it, but we can only be glad that both of these women have dared to write so boldly, and beautifully. It’s an exceptional gift that they were able to do it together.

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