Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 15, 2009

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story

I am loving this book by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor about mothers and daughters, bees and pomegranates, Greece and South Carolina, myth and ordinary life, with its strand of how Sue Monk Kidd came to write her first novel after having raised two children and built a career writing nonfiction. The Secret Lives of Bees is one of my favorite novels, the kind of book whose title you can mention in a group of women and hear contented sighs, as if someone was passing around a sleepy baby: the book goes right to your heart.

But for the first half of this memoir, I was more captivated by the chapters written by her daughter Ann, visiting Greece with her mother after graduating from college, and coping with depression as she wondered what in the world she’d do now. She is so candid about her uncertainty and questioning, the tightrope of being in a beautiful place while feeling some hollowness inside. And not all her moments are bleak. She can still enjoy a good meal, and make jokes, while facing a future that seems to have way too many gaps.

As the two writers alternate chapters, you see the distance between them, despite their love, as both struggle with a sense of being incomplete. Only the edges of revelation enter their conversation in the first half of the book. Must sadness be a private struggle? There’s the tension. Sue writes about being a young mother first left alone with her baby, and sobbing as she thought of all that might go wrong. Now, wondering what to say to her daughter, she’s aware of all that can go wrong in such a conversation. She waits.

They travel to Turkey and visit Ephesus where Sue remembers surprising herself five years earlier sending up a prayer to write a novel. After some time she took a class and wrote a story set in her childhood bedroom, where bees sometimes nested: honey dripped, and the walls hummed. Her instructor called the story interesting, with that tone that suggests: not at all. He called the story small. Sue put it away, but the memory came back as she stood in a garden, having just prayed before a statue of Mary, then stands still when a bee lands on her arm. She let it be. She knew her prayer had been answered. It was time to start her novel.

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Responses

  1. You’ve just made me add this book to my must-read list. Love, love, love the description of how she came back to the “small” story that mattered to her.

  2. I just realized that I never actually read The Secret Life of Bees. So thanks for this interesting review and for steering me back to a book that I wanted to read, but forgot about.

  3. Lorraine, if you have HBO, you can catch SECRET LIFE OF BEES. It’s on a lot. I’ve watched it maybe 5 times in the last month or more. It’s fantastic.
    After I saw the movie the first time, something in my brain just CLICKED; I recalled feeling as if I could see that title in the house and sure enough, I had bought the book– but never read it. (Still have not. I NEED MORE THAN 24 hours a day.) {}

  4. Jeannine: I love this piece. Thank you for making magic out of your words. You’ve reminded me SECRET LIFE OF BEES is on my WILL BE READ pile behind my pillows in my bedroom.
    I’ve read about this mother-daughter memoir and I am sure I heard a part of their radio interview somewhere but the specfic time and place escapes me now.
    This is so poignant: “He called the story small. Sue put it away, but the memory came back as she stood in a garden, having just prayed before a statue of Mary, then stands still when a bee lands on her arm. She let it be. She knew her prayer had been answered. It was time to start her novel.”
    The image of the gentle bee and the prayers and the moment of truth is powerful and inspiring.
    Thanks, Jeannine. You’ve moved me. {}
    -Pamela

  5. I think you’ll like The Secret Life of Bees a lot. The movie is pretty, but as movies so often do, leaves so much out. The bees look cool, but I don’t think you’d get so much sense from it of why they are important. The metaphor seems lost.
    I love her Ten Most Important Things I know about Writing (esp the one on metaphor) on her website — suemonkkidd dot com: hit reflections, then thoughts on writing.

  6. Pamela, I know all about those towering piles by the bed. Mine are threatening to topple all the time. I think you will like the book and also I her Ten Most Important Things I know about Writing (esp the one on metaphor) on her website — suemonkkidd dot com: hit reflections, then thoughts on writing.
    Oh, when I read that word “small” applied to her writing, my heart sank. My skin stung. She could feel how it hurt even after all the time had passed, her novel is beloved and a bestseller. These are some of the things we have to get through. It’s good to have her showing a way.
    Thanks for writing, Pamela!


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