Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
First Line: It began with an itch.
Summary: When we first meet Suleika, she is finishing her final year of college. An aspiring international correspondent, Suleika is exceptionally talented, speaking several languages and having previously earned a scholarship to Juilliard for the double bass. Her future is bright and she’s looking forward to the adventure of figuring out who she will be and what she will contribute to the world. Although suffering from a maddening itch and debilitating exhaustion, Suleika chalks it up to hard work and hard partying. Before graduating, Suleika lines up a job in Paris, and falls in love. It isn’t long before her boyfriend follows her to Paris and they begin a life together.
But Suleika’s exhaustion only intensifies and she finds herself in the hospital again and again, with doctors assuming her frequent illness is the result of a young person’s lifestyle. Finally, a nurse urges Suleika to go home to her family and get the medical care she needs. The following morning Suleika flies to New York, at this point so run down she’s escorted by wheelchair.
Suleika is diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia, discovers she will need a bone marrow transplant, and is given a 35% chance of survival. The next chapters are devoted to her journey through cancer—the setbacks, the pain, and the changing relationships with her family, friends, and boyfriend. She suffers many losses, but also finds a creative outlet and is uplifted by the words of strangers who relate to her story.
The book concludes with Suleika struggling to return to normalcy post-sickness. She realizes she no longer knows who she is or what she wants her life to look like. Suleika decides to embark on a 100-day journey of self-discovery and adventure across the U.S., visiting some of the people who wrote to her while she was sick.
My thoughts: This is an emotional read. Suleika’s story is as much about love as it is about sickness. Her words served as a wakeup call, reminding me that we only have one shot at this–better to make it a life of my choosing rather than to settle. In my view, living is a continuous cycle of taking this whole beautiful mess of a world and the people in it for granted and then remembering how precious it all is. This book made me feel the latter in spades.