Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review: Traveling with Pomegranates

This book has been on my to-read list for awhile! I was drawn to it since it is a travel memoir that focuses on the dynamic between mothers and daughters. Then Mandy read it and told me how much she loved it, so I bumped it up on my to-read list and tackled it last month! You might recognize one of the authors - Sue Monk Kidd. She wrote the best-seller "The Secret Life of Bees," which has since been made into a movie. Sue and her daughter, Anne, took 3 trips Greece and France together and this book is the reflection of their journey through these countries - with emphasis on their own personal journey. Anne is in her early 20s and is struggling to find her place in the world. Sue is turning 50 and is struggling with the transition into becoming an older woman. Both are trying to define themselves in a new world, and are also trying to define their relationship.

Having gone through that "quarter-life crisis" that occurs in your early 20's, I could really relate to Anne's story. In the early part of the book, she really struggles with depression - which is something I have struggled with during my 20s. I slipped in and out of that depression from college graduation until about 12 months ago when I finally kicked it for good.

When I was struggling with depression, I became a shadow of who I am, and I know it did not go unnoticed by my family. Sue also noticed the shift in her daughter but hadn't really asked her daughter about it. On their flight over to Greece she says the following about her daughter:

"When I inquired, she said she was fine. But on the flight over, during the hours she sat next to me, she stared out the oval window, at the SkyMall catalog, at the movie playing on the monitor over our heads, and there was an emission of sadness around her, like the faint dots and dashes of Morse code blinking secret distress." (p. 7)

I can remember a trip to Chicago with my parents to attend a wedding - I don't remember what was going on in my life at the time, but I was miserable. I think I was radiating sadness. My mom tried to ask me what was wrong and how they could help, but I couldn't tell her what to do or say to make it better and I certainly wasn't able to help myself. When she asked me what was wrong, my typical response was always that I was fine. I think I so badly wanted that to be the case, I kept saying I was fine hoping that eventually it would be true.

A theme of this book is the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter. If you are interested, you can read about it here, but to sum it up, Persephone, the daughter, is abducted by Hades, lord of the dead, and falls into a hole in the earth. Demeter, the mother, abandons all of her responsibilities to search for her daughter. Eventually Persephone returns to her, but she is no longer the same innocent girl - she has been transfigured by her experience on the dark side. Demeter embraces her daughter and loves her for who she is, even if she is a slightly different woman. Sue feels like Demeter - the depression Anne experiences is similar to the abduction by Hades, and as Sue says at one point, she just wants her daughter back. (p. 11)

Throughout the course of the book, Anne figured out what sparked the depression. For her, the source of her depression was a grad school rejection letter. As she says, "I do realize the letter has become far more than a rejection letter. Somehow it has gotten attached to much deeper things, turning into a catchall for everything that seems wrong with me: 'Anne: the Official Document.'" (p. 82)

Anne does eventually find her way out of the darkness - as have I. I can see the changes in myself and my parents and siblings can see them as well. I've shaken the shadow of despair I felt. I don't think I will ever fully understand the source of my depression; I know part of it had to do with how my life was playing out compared to how I thought it would. My career wasn't fulfilling and while everyone else around me was finding their husbands and getting married, I kept going through difficult break-ups. Eventually I came to the point where I realized my worth as an individual wasn't about the job I had or whether I was married. Those things are, to some extent, out of my control, so basing my worth on them was a slippery slope.

I feel the same way as Anne does about the time I spent feeling depressed. As she says, "I think how my experience in the underworld has brought me to a new sense of myself, the way my self-rejection has turned into acceptance and a new way of valuing myself. As painful as that was, I wouldn't change any of it." (p.262)

I am very thankful that my mom and dad were there for me during those tough times and never stopped asking if I was ok. They didn't give up on me, and for that I am thankful. I've grown so much closer to my mom as a result.

I am going to close with one final quote from the book about the mother/daughter relationship:

"I've tried to understand what the embrace between Demeter and Persephone means. I have come to believe it's really about that aperture opening. It's the channel where the souls of a mother and a daughter open and flow as two separate adults, woman to woman. It is, I know now, a place created through necessary loss and necessary search, and a reinvention of the whole relationship."

This book was a wonderful read for me, but it was hard to write this review and bare my soul to all of you. For some reason, there is still a stigma around saying you have struggled with depression. I think our society is getting closer to thinking about depression as you would any other condition - such as hypertension, but we have a ways to go.


Becky said...

This is quite possibly the best book review ever BECAUSE you bared your soul. Thanks so much for sharing that! I have a friend who I think hasn't realized what you said - that her worth is not based on her job or her relationship status. Depression can be really hard and I'm so glad you have not only "kicked it" but can talk about it as well.

I'm putting this book on my to-read list - and I want to reach through the screen and give you a big hug! :)

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

Sue Monk Kidd is a beautiful writer. I really enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees. Thank you for writing so beautifully yourself and telling the truth. Your review wouldn't be half as good without the truth included. I and many of my friends have suffered from depression or other social anxiety disorders and it is very very difficult when you are pretending everything is okay.

Abby said...

Excellent post Lisa. I truly admire you for being able to put yourself out there. I am so happy to see that you have found the right place in life and am not in depression anymore!!

I agree with your thoughts on the whole stigma of depression. People sometimes think it is only a mood and not an actual disease.

Marlys said...

Brave, courageous, strong! That is what it took for you to write this blog today! You and all your siblings have been, are and will be forever in my prayers! God heals! Mom

Nora said...

What a great book review! At first i got really excited because I just gave this book to my Gram for Christmas (she enjoys Sue Monk Kidd) and then was curious as to what you had to say about it.

The best books are often ones that speak to us and our lives at a particular time in our lives, no less. I'm sorry that you battled depression (I had no idea) but I thank you for trusting your readers with this information and for opening up a new piece of yourself to us.

Anais said...

Ok, I most definitely want to read that book now! Sounds like just the type of read that I need right now :) I think I'm slowly emerging from the quarter-life crisis (great term btw!), but I'm definitely still in it...

Kelly said...

Lisa, I loved this review. I read this book about a month ago and I absolutely loved it. However, there were so many aspects that you made me consider more, and I feel like I know you so much better after reading it. I am glad you are in a better place right now. I think your honesty makes you a great blogger!

Amber said...

What an amazing review. I really want to read this book, now!

I completely agree with your take on depression. There is such a huge stigma around it. I have never felt a large amount of depression for a long time but I have gone into funks that have lasted 2-3 weeks before and it's absolutely terrible and there's nothing you can do to shake yourself out of it.

I am going to request this book from my library right now!!

Mandy said...

This is a beautiful post Lisa. I loved this book and your review. It takes courage to share a part of yourself like you did in this post.

Nicole said...

Wow, what a great review! I had never head of this book, but will certainly be putting this book on my list now. You are an amazing person for your openness and honesty. :)

J said...

I love Sue monk kidd. I will def have to put this on my list! Thanks for writing this review!