I’ve just devoured Traveling with Pomegranates, a loving duet co-authored by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor; a story told in “braided voices.” I highly recommend it if you’re interested in travel memoirs, life’s major passages, an examination of creativity, or the relationship between mothers and daughters. (And it helps if you remember your Greek myths or were ever exposed to the concept of archetypes…)
On Becoming a Novelist
Sue Monk Kidd wrote the wildly popular The Secret Life of Bees, her first novel. As we learn in Pomegranates, Kidd agonized over the decision to write a novel given her long career as a nonfiction author. She reveals how and where she made the decision to write a novel, The Secret Life of Bees, as well as what inspired many of Bees’ themes and imagery (such as the Black Madonna and bees). Traveling with Pomegranates and The Secret Life of Bees are connected on many levels, both literary and spiritual.
For aspiring novelists her descriptions of emotional upheavals, creative ferment, sources of inspiration, spiritual “moments of truth” and an ongoing battle with self-esteem offer a precious peek into the creative process.
The … surge of creativity I’ve felt…. Where does the improvisation, the freedom, the hint of new authority and potency come from? Images well up in me more spontaneously, trailing along a stream of ideas, memories, feelings, and symbols, and I feel connected to a sourcelike place in myself.
Pomegranates is a yummy book — I should have savored it instead of racing through so I could return it to the library. It’s definitely a book to recommend to friends and re-read someday at a more leisurely pace.
On the surface this is a travel memoir, a story told in alternating voices, as mother and daughter contrast their experiences of travel together in Greece and France. They visit key destinations for early Christian pilgrims, as well as ancient Goddess sites – a sort of feminists’ journey. I’ve visited some of those places, and enjoyed the opportunity to relive them through the authors’ experiences. And even more, to learn the inspirational sources of imagery in The Secret Life of Bees, such as the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, shown here.
But the book’s most profound moments occur when each author describes her feelings as they work through life passages, and redefine their relationship as they both transition into new life stages:
- On the threshold of turning 50, the mother is facing menopause, mortality (her own and her mother’s), and is thinking about unresolved relationship issues with her mother and her daughter.
- The daughter has just graduated from college, is still agonizing over her rejection from grad school, suffers from low self-esteem, and does not yet know who or what she wants to be.
For her fellow Baby Boomers, the most poignant moments occur when Sue Monk Kidd writes about the pain of leaving youth behind while not yet ready to embrace what she calls “The Old Woman.” And then she describes the joy and release of acceptance. Here’s a sample, written toward the end of the book when she begins to embrace “the final third of my life”:
By Christmas, the need to examine my face for lines and sags left me. I recognized the growing permutations as more than the effects of time. They became a poignant history – tracings of my experience and character, the passionate individuality of my soul, the story of lived life written in the tenderness of skin. I began to find a worn beauty in all of that. I could never cut it away.
Needless to say the title’s reference to pomegranates is laden with symbolism and references to Greek myths, fertility, and other imagery.