Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor — Book Review
I love a good book about travel experiences, and after six months of quarantine life, I’ve found myself drawn to them more than ever! The stories about people whose lives were transformed in ways big or small from the experience of traveling are my favorite. Often, we travel as much to find ourselves as we do to discover the world.
I’ve written reviews of other travel books I’ve really enjoyed, and the common theme in the majority of them is the desire to not only rediscover oneself but also to redefine one’s life. Many of the writers were facing a midlife crisis, in the midst of a life-changing event, or about to experience a life-changing event. In these times is when we dig deep to better understand ourselves, to bring the truths to the surface for full exposure (even if only to expose to ourselves and no one else), and to mine for the answers that we so desperately need that are buried in the far reaches of our hearts and souls.
I empathized with Cheryl Strayed in Wild as she set out on a journey to recreate herself and rebuild her life. I admired Andrew McCarthy’s deep dive into his own perceptions of himself in The Longest Way Home as he studied the people and the places he visited as a means of better understanding himself. I identified with Rita Gelman in Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World as she struggled to find herself again while in the midst of a mid-life crisis. I envied Ferenc Máté and his wife for the courage they had to move to another country and restore a centuries-old monastery into a winery in A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover’s Dream.
Each time I read a really great travel memoir, (not all of them are great, but there are a lot that are!) I fear that I will never read anything again as good as what I just read. And each time I stumble across another travel book that delights me, brings me around the world, and touches my emotions all at the same time, I feel like I’ve been bestowed with another little blessing.
Traveling with Pomegranates written by Sue Monk Kidd along with her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor is my most recent read that left me wanting to start over on page one again the moment I reached the last. It is beautifully written with wonderful details of Greece, Turkey, and France, and delves into relationships and life phases, pulling at emotions in all the right ways.
About the Authors
Sue Monk Kidd is probably most famous for her book The Secret Life of Bees, which I’ve yet to read but likely will do so soon. I did read her fiction book Invention of Wings this past year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her books delve deep into the familiar emotions that drive human beings but she still manages to go to unexpected places with her stories.
Sue’s daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, is also a writer but I have not read her other books as of yet (though I likely will after reading Traveling with Pomegranates). Being the daughter of a famous writer cannot be easy, especially when you harbor the same ambitions that your own mother has already excelled at with great fame. It is a fear that held Ann back from becoming a writer herself for many years, and she delves into those fears in this book.
About the Book — Traveling with Pomegranates
Traveling with Pomegranates is the story of a mother and daughter traveling together to Greece, Turkey, and France. They take these trips together because of their mutual love of travel, of history, and of seeing the art and architecture that has endured through the centuries. They also travel because each of them is searching for answers to their own personal dilemmas as they transition into new phases of womanhood. And though they are close, they are also searching for each other on a new level.
The authors alternate chapters, which can be jarring if not done right, but Sue and Ann accomplish this seamlessly. Often, when I’ve read other books with alternating narrators, at the end of the chapter I’m not ready to switch to the new perspective of the next narrator, In Traveling with Pomegranates, at the end of each chapter I was eager to get to the next and hear how the other narrator perceived the same events and to get the answers from one about the questions of the other.
Sue Monk Kidd is a mother who has a deep love for her daughter, but also enough respect and trust to give her daughter the space she needs to wrestle with her own insecurities while making life-changing decisions, or grappling with life-changing events not of her choosing.
Ann Kidd Taylor is a daughter who greatly respects her mother and cherishes the close relationship they share. She does not seem to withdraw intentionally from her mother while she searches for answers about herself, but in not fully understanding what is happening in her own heart and mind she withdraws into herself.
Sue is not only struggling to reconnect with her daughter who seems to be floundering, but she is also looking for answers to her own questions about her career as a writer, her role as a mother whose children are now adults, and as a woman entering the phase of her life in which she is no longer a young woman but also not ready to be an old woman. At 50, she knows she is entering the latter half of her life, that she is not the vibrant age of her daughter’s generation, but she is also not ready to concede that she is done with her life.
Throughout the book, Sue Monk Kidd so elegantly and poignantly explores what it means to be an “old woman” and how she will assume this new role. She studies it from the perspective of her role as writer, mother, wife, friend, and woman. She is a deeply faithful person, but she questions the male-dominated writings of the church that focus on God, The Father but say little about The Mother — someone whom she is desperately seeking to help guide her.
Surprisingly, I very much enjoyed this aspect of the book — the spiritual journey of the mother. I use the term “surprisingly” because I am not a religious person myself though I grew up in the church, and I am quickly turned off by anything that becomes preachy. Sue Monk Kidd is never preachy in her writing about her journey to The Mother and her quest to deepen her understanding of what it means to be the “old woman.” She is constantly looking inward to herself, to the unanswered questions and the personal consolations she seeks as she searches for images of the old woman as she tours cathedrals and churches and studies the artwork depicting Mary as The Mother, and Mary’s own mother as The Mother. I identified with the questions for which Ms. Kidd was searching for answers. Even if her religious beliefs are not my own, I understood the comfort she takes from finding relics that hold meaning for her and the symbolism that provides solace to her soul.
At the same time that her mother is searching for a woman of strength to be her guiding savior, Ann Kidd Taylor is discovering her own need to find women as models who demonstrate a strong sense of self-awareness in who they are, what they believe in, and the unwavering purpose that guides their lives. She finds this in Saint Joan: Joan of Arc, among other women from history and mythology. She holds these women close to her heart and leans on them to guide her through her uncertainty about her own purpose in life. As a result, we see Ann flourish — both in her writing from chapter to chapter and from the view of her mother — from a naive and sheltered young woman lacking confidence in her own intuitions, to a woman with a purpose and a willingness to trust in herself.
I found both mother and daughter to be extremely relatable and likable. I enjoyed the contrast in the things they noticed about the places they traveled, and in the way they processed the shared experiences. Yet even with these different perspectives, they both draw similar conclusions and return to each other with a deeper understanding of themselves and their new roles in life as adult daughter and wiser old woman.
Traveling with Pomegranates (a reference to the mythological story of Persephone's quest to find her stolen daughter) is a delightful read with vivid details of the people and places they encounter on their journeys to Greece, Turkey, and France. It is also a heartwarming story because of the struggles of each woman as she moves into a new and unfamiliar phase of her life while searching for what it means to be her own woman of value.