Length: 368 pages
Audiobook Length: 13 hours and 2 minutes
First Published: 2021
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After graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was excited to enter “the real world” with a job in Paris and an amazing new boyfriend. But an itch turned to a diagnosis of leukemia with a low chance of survival. Jaouad spent the next four years in the hospital battling cancer and writing about it for The New York Times. Yet, once she was cured, she felt even more lost than ever. So she embarked on a road trip across the country to find herself in this bestselling nonfiction book.
Jaouad’s memoir is a startling first-hand account showcasing how cancer can eat into more than just our bodies. Jaouad honestly describes how her illness affected her relationships with friends, family, and even her faithful boyfriend. Reading it, you learn how modern medicine does a great job keeping you alive but fails to look at the entire aspect of a person, both the mental and the physical. Jaouad’s journey back to “normal” is a stark reminder that the post-cancer transition can be just as hard as the throes of chemotherapy.
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.
Quotes from Between Two Kingdoms
When we travel, we actually take three trips. There’s the first trip of preparation and anticipation, packing and daydreaming. There’s the trip you’re actually on. And then, there’s the trip you remember.
May I be awake enough to notice when love appears and bold enough to pursue it without knowing where it will end.
To learn to swim in the ocean of not-knowing- this is my constant work.
Wherever I am, wherever we go, home will always be the in-between place, a wilderness I’ve grown to love.
About Suleika Jaouad
Suleika Jaouad was the author of The New York Times column Life, Interrupted. She is the creator of the Isolation Journals and author of Between Two Kingdoms. Visit the author’s website →