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Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

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A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission and, ultimately, a road trip of healing and self-discovery.

In the summer after graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was preparing, as they say in commencement speeches, to enter “the real world”. She had fallen in love and moved to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a war correspondent. The real world she found, however, would take her into a very different kind of conflict zone.

It started with an itch—first on her feet, then up her legs, like a thousand invisible mosquito bites. Next came the exhaustion, and the six-hour naps that only deepened her fatigue. Then a trip to the doctor and, a few weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday, a diagnosis: leukemia, with a 35 percent chance of survival. Just like that, the life she had imagined for herself had gone up in flames. By the time Jaouad flew home to New York, she had lost her job, her apartment, and her independence. She would spend much of the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and chronicling the saga in a column for The New York Times.

When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward—after three and a half years of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant—she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins. She had spent the past 1,500 days in desperate pursuit of one goal—to survive. And now that she’d done so, she realized that she had no idea how to live.

How would she reenter the world and live again? How could she reclaim what had been lost? Jaouad embarked—with her new best friend, Oscar, a scruffy terrier mutt—on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country. She set out to meet some of the strangers who had written to her during her years in the hospital: a teenage girl in Florida also recovering from cancer; a teacher in California grieving the death of her son; a death-row inmate in Texas who’d spent his own years confined to a room. What she learned on this trip is that the divide between sick and well is porous, that the vast majority of us will travel back and forth between these realms throughout our lives. Between Two Kingdoms is a profound chronicle of survivorship and a fierce, tender, and inspiring exploration of what it means to begin again.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published February 9, 2021

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About the author

Suleika Jaouad

3 books1,654 followers
Suleika Jaouad wrote the Emmy Award-winning New York Times column “Life, Interrupted.” Her essays and reported features have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vogue and NPR. She is the creator of the Isolation Journals, a global project cultivating creativity and community during challenging times. BETWEEN TWO KINGDOMS is her first book.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,663 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,009 reviews36k followers
October 4, 2021
Update $1.99 kindle special today. — great deal!!!

Audiobook... read beautifully by the author, Suleika Jaquad

An amazing story of triumph....
....a book that makes a difference by a woman whose contribution to others is huge...
....a GIGANTIC gift to me!!!
....articulately written with emotional truth!!!

....I never expected to be affected as hard as I was.

My close friend’s son died of myeloid leukemia... a year after he had married - at age 32.
I know dozens and dozens of people who have had cancer…
Many have died.
Many have lived.
So... I just didn’t expect to be THIS SHAKEN - MOVED - INSPIRED....
I was wrong ... I was all these things.

I found everything about this book valuable... worthy of reading...
... including having to reflect on things in my own life.

People who are sick might have a hard time reading this memoir. Healthy people may also have a hard time reading it..... and as hard as it was I couldn’t put it down.
Details are explicit, graphic.
But also real.

Suleika’s (gorgeous name), extraordinary story of pain, perseverance, and hope....
gripped me to the core...
shredded my guts...
I cried a half dozen times...

Crying while hiking hilly trails is risky business—
I felt like I was going to hyperventilate once - as holding ‘back’ the tears wasn’t easy either.

Parts of this book scared the shit out of me...
But it would take pages to explain why.

Other parts— about her relationship with Will, her mom, dad, friends, were compelling.

Mostly ... I just want to say that on a personal level I’ve fallen in love with this young wonderful woman —

One of the happiest moments for me in this memoir was just before Suleika needed another chemo therapy treatment....
her immune system was still weak, but she was better and strong enough to have a dog.....
Only once did Suleika play ‘the cancer card’...
it was when she desperately wanted a little runt.... whom she named Oscar.
Geee.... I cried when moments were happy too!!!
I even cried when Oscar went pee pee on the rug of Suleika’s house.
My god... it’s true that dogs are great healing medicine.

Suleika had a friend who was in the hospital at the same time when she was. The other sick cancer patients became her friends.
One day he gave Suleika a bracelet that said:
“I’m such a big fan of you”.

Me, too....
“I’m such a big fan of you, Suleika!!!”
Profile Image for Liz.
2,023 reviews2,529 followers
December 30, 2020
3.5 stars, rounded up
I had to pysch myself up to read this. Right now, depressing stories are hard to take on top of real life. Suleika is 22 years old when she’s diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. All of a sudden, her tiredness and mouth sores aren’t just a case of anemia. It was scary to realize how many decisions had to be made in such a short time amount of time, like fertility issues, experimental trials.
It’s a dark, at times tortuous story and I will admit to having to skim certain sections just to get through them. I had to keep reminding myself that the story obviously has a happy ending as she lived to write the memoir.
The book reminds us of the importance of being surrounded by a caring community. Not just her family, but a relatively new boyfriend. How many people would have put their life so totally on hold like Will for even a week let alone much longer? It’s also a reminder of how utterly draining dealing with cancer can be, for all concerned.
This is a brutally honest account of everything Sulieka dealt with - her emotions ranged all over the map, as you would expect. When a social worker asks her to consider a 100 Day Project, she returns to writing. This provides the outlet she needs, first through her blog and then a column for The NY Times. Sulieka truly has a gift for writing. “My cancer was a junkyard dog. It may have been fenced for now, but it was mean and growling, threatening to dig under the barbed wire and escape.”
The title refers to a quote from Susan Sontag about holding dual citizenship in the land of the well and of the sick. The second half of the book discusses how she moves on from being a cancer patient, the search to find her new identity. I found this half of the book much more interesting and new. She discusses her need to move beyond the fear. She revisits folks she met on her cancer journey. It's obviously a much more uplifting tale.
My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,289 reviews35k followers
February 5, 2021
"You will never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. " - Bob Marley

Right after graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was ready to take on the world. She had moved to Paris and to purse her dream of becoming a war correspondence. Life would set her up for a different kind of battle. She began to itch. Not the little itch that we all experience from time to time but a drawn out annoying one that had her waking each day to find scratch marks on her body. It was persistent and did not go away. Then fatigue set in. After many doctor appointments, and right before her twenty third birthday, she was diagnosed with Leukemia with a 35 percent chance of survival.

"Until death, it is all life. " - Miguel de Cervantes

Life had changed on a dime. She moved back in with her parents, lost her job, her apartment and her ability to freely live her life. She would be in and out of the hospital, facing treatments, exhaustion, fighting for her life all the while chronicling her experiences and illness in the New York Times.

She had many who were there for her as support throughout her long battle which altered her dreams, her relationships and her life goals. Cancer not only took a toll on her body, but on her outlook but also on those in her life. She mentions in the book that "Cancer is greedy." It ravaged everything and left her to rebuild again.

"Death never comes at a good time..."

When she was declared "cured" what would life look like for her? How do you move forward when those you have met and bonded with are gone? How does such a life altering illness effect your relationship?

I always find it out and often difficult to rate a memoir as I do not want to rate that person’s life and experiences but do want to rate the level of writing and my ability to relate to or learn something from their memoir. Her writing is beautiful, and I am awed by her bravery in sharing just how the cancer ravaged her body. She does not shy away from sharing the details.

Obviously, we know she survives and even thought her career goals changed, she continues to write and wrote an Emmy award winning column titled "Life Interrupted." Her wok has been featured in magazines and she has created Isolation Journals. She may not be a war correspondent, but she has made an impact in journalism.

This is a moving, thought provoking and powerful memoir.

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Sophia.
14 reviews2 followers
March 4, 2021
Let me start this off by saying that I am not a dramatic person. With that being said, this book kinda changed my life.

Just for some background: I’m 20 years old, I was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome at the age of 7 (which is the rare pre-leukemic disease that Jaouad got before it turned into full-blown leukemia). I also almost lost my life in a battle with GVHD (Graft vs. Host Disease, which Jaouad also dealt with). I’ve luckily been living a happy and healthy life since then.

And for extra funsies: I won this book in a goodreads giveaway and knew practically nothing about it before it landed at my doorstep.

My family and I don’t talk about the time we spent in the hospital. It was deeply traumatic for them in ways that I will (hopefully) never understand, and I respect that. A consequence of this, however, is that I knew nothing about what I had until decided to write about it for my college application essay. I didn’t even know the name of the disease until I was 17. What I was left with was a swirl of memories and feelings that were processed in my 7-year-old brain and were left essentially untouched. That is, until I read this.

I know what it feels like to have people talk about your health as if you weren’t even there. I know the frustration when you suddenly find out that you’re infertile (I found out by browsing my MyChart page my freshman year of college because no one told me). I know what the catheter feels like, and what it felt like when it was gone. Later in my life, I began to understand what Jaouad means when she writes that she realized “all the other imprints of illness with which I have yet to contend”.

Anyways, if you’re here looking for an ***actual review*** of the book and not my weirdly personal confessions, here it is:

Trauma reshapes the way we look at the world and the way we interact with the people around us, and Jaouad expertly describes the complexities of that liminal space that one exists in when going through something life-changing like cancer. If you’re someone who has gone through the death of a friend or family member, a serious diagnosis, or heartbreak, this is a book for you. If you haven’t experienced any of those things, this is also a book for you. While her specific experiences are rare, she speaks to a larger truth about finding selfhood in a constantly changing world. The stories she chooses to tell about the people she meets along the way are some of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking stories I’ve read. Not to mention, she’s fucking funny! Just read the book, ok? You won’t regret it.
1 review2 followers
May 24, 2021
I thought this would be a road trip book based on the cover and description, but that's only the last third of the book or so, and it meanders once it gets to that point. Instead it was two-thirds a graphic account of what it's like to get cancer and the treatment process. It's obviously not easy to get cancer at such a sensitive time in your life, and she had a particularly difficult case, but it's hard to watch her railroad her family, and particularly her boyfriend who took up the mantle of being her primary caretaker despite barely knowing her. She deserves credit for being somewhat honest about not being perfect in these times, and obviously she was quite young, but the retelling does feel a bit... constructed, to the degree that you wonder what the realities were.

I know it's a memoir and it's her reality. Obviously the cancer ravaged her livelihood, but, she chose to also express how it ravaged her relationships. I don't love the picture that emerges there, or the example it sets, and by that I mean: Every conflict becomes about her and her ability to forgive herself for acting out over the basic needs over those around her, and not empathy for those around her and whether their needs were also valid. When she still can't get there, especially now that she has the 10,000 foot view as she's writing a book if not in the moment, that feels like the thought pattern of a self-centered asshole, frankly. I notice she did not thank Will in the acknowledgments; strange omission!

When cancer puts people so far beyond reproach, even makes people afraid of engaging with a person's less than honorable qualities, I'm not sure she's entirely holding herself accountable in her relationships. "I had cancer!" covers all manner of sins. The writing was nice.
Profile Image for Allison.
34 reviews4 followers
March 12, 2021
The first 60% of this book focuses on the author's fight against acute myeloid leukemia. After her treatment concludes, she spends the remainder of the book documenting a 100-day solo journey across the United States. A huge theme of the book is the bifurcation of her life: the times before and after being sick. It makes sense that the book would mirror that by being divided into the story of her illness and the story of what came afterward.

For me, the dichotomy did not work and felt like two entirely different books. Her writing about her treatment was a raw and devastating depiction of cancer treatment guided by the facts of her illness. The second half of the book was an entirely self-reflective spin on Eat, Pray, Love that did not really work for me.

We've all had to reevaluate how truthful a memoir is after Oprah and A Million Little Pieces. Turning memories and journals into a narrative is a very challenging endeavor. Still, I groaned through a lot of the too-clean quips that read like fiction and a handful of completely unbelievable scenarios. For example, she claims that she convinced a guard at the Taj Mahal to help her break some essential ground rules because she is so very special. Sure, that makes for a good story, but that doesn't ring true. The author's Instagram posts from the time of illness also show a lot of things that went completely unaddressed in the book, such as multiple overseas vacations and career milestones.

For all of her self-reflection, the author seems to have a lot of blind spots, particularly around her privilege. She makes a passive comment about only being able to afford Princeton through scholarships but then describes multiple study abroad trips and unpaid/low-paying internships that require financial privilege. She barely reflects on the privilege of having health insurance or being able to get appointments at some of the best hospitals in NYC for her treatment. Money seems like a complete afterthought, and the financials of her life (particularly after her cancer) are mysterious.

It would have also been nice for her to have some self-reflection on her pattern of codependent relationships. She jumps immediately from a long-term relationship that was colored by the trauma of her illness into another without any reservations.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,467 reviews564 followers
August 10, 2021
The memoirs that I admire most open both my mind and heart. Between Two Kingdoms does this and more. You might question, like I did, if you really want to read about a young woman's experience with cancer. But Jaouad makes her story an adventure - a beautifully written, eye-opening and perilous journey that has informed and deepened the way I view illness, recovery...and life. I loved listening to Jaouad narrate her story on the audiobook.
February 9, 2021
*Some of the scenes depicted of Suleika's sufferings were quite graphic*

Some say the world is your oyster and for Suleika Jaourd that seemed to be her future. Recent college grad, moving to Paris and a new boyfriend make for a life that seems to be unfolding before her. Then Suleika is bothered by itchiness that drove her crazy. Next came exhaustion that even six hour naps couldn't quell. A trip to the doctor confirmed this was something awful, leukemia with the chances of survival placed at 35%. The world that was bright, sunny, and destined to be wonderful, turned into one of a nightmare with three and a half years of chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. She survived with the help of family, friends, and her devoted boyfriend, but it did cost her greatly.

The doctors said she was cured, but along the way she lost so much, her job, her life in Paris, her life with her devoted boyfriend, and many of the friends she had made while undergoing treatments. She suffered greatly not only from the pain of the cancer, but also the many ways her young life had turned to days of vomiting, losing her hair, exhaustion, and the many horrors of this disease.

However, Sulieka survived. She began writing a column for the NY Times, and that gave her a purpose during the life threatening times she endured. Through her writing and a blog she met many people who had lost someone, or was suffering from a deadly illness. She connected with many of them and later on in an attempt to find her way after all she had been through in a one hundred day journey across country with her dog as her sole companion,she met face to face with some of them. Sulieka felt these people enriched her life and gave it a meaning she didn't think she could recapture.

But recapture she did and she began once again on that journey called life. She found that she and others, really all of us, live between two kingdoms as we survive the ills of our lives and learn to begin once again.

Thank you to Suleika Jaourd, Random House, and NetGalley for a copy of the memoir due out February 9, 2021.
Profile Image for Laura.
69 reviews38 followers
July 21, 2022
Part memoir and part travelogue, Between Two Kingdoms is a deeply personal book about the author's journey through her cancer treatment and the road trip she embarks on after her treatment concludes. Jaouad doesn't hold back in describing every aspect of her experience, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. It's a must read for anyone interested in increasing their knowledge of what it's like to have cancer.
Profile Image for Tracie Rose.
3 reviews1 follower
June 13, 2021
I will say that Suleika Jaouad really, really, really thinks a lot of herself. Apparently, the world revolves around her and the rest of us just don't know it yet. I wanted to read this because I also beat an aggressive rare and advanced cancer. I wanted to connect with an author who understood the struggles- physically, emotionally, and financially that cancer creates. I started out liking her and relating to her, but then the things that she focused on seemed so...singular and superlative. I'd have much rather read the cancer survival story of someone who wasn't blessed with a loving family, money, support, love, and fantastic opportunities. The story of how someone who faced personal obstacles, in addition to cancer, would have been something I'd inhale. Poor Suleika only had men who worshipped her, friends who influenced the art world, doctors who were obsessed with only her, and a family who loved her no matter what. Let's not forget that she was basically handed every opportunity that others work their entire lives for, and rarely receive. I just really don't like her. I would have rather heard more about her physical journey because the emotional one was about as deep as a kiddie pool.
Profile Image for *TUDOR^QUEEN* .
435 reviews444 followers
February 27, 2021
Four Stars

Suleika Jaouad had just graduated college when she was diagnosed with leukemia. As the book begins she is ready to take on the world, bravely embarking on a new job in Paris. To her utter surprise, new boyfriend Will decides to come join her. Everything is going well except nagging in the background, this tantalizing itch that would start up her feet and move up her body. Then there was the weakness that prompted Suleika to take hours long naps. She was almost 23 when she finally received the diagnosis of leukemia, for which there was a 35% chance of recovery. She returned home to New York and her parents to focus on treatment. Then Will gave up everything and also returned from Paris, to live in Suleika's parents' house and become her primary caregiver.

The first part of the book where Suleika was fighting cancer, mostly in the hospital, was the most interesting and engaging to me. I guess you would call this the "1st kingdom" of the book. Suleika's brother essentially saved her life by providing his bone marrow. Even so, it would take time to know if the process was successful and there could be pitfalls along the way. Suleika would get disappointed when she found out that more chemotherapy treatments would be necessary after the bone marrow transplant to ensure the best odds of beating the cancer. She and Will took up residence in her parent's empty small apartment in the village where Will was her sole caregiver, even while working a full-time job. I found his dedication truly inspirational and could sympathise from personal experience with the strain such an arrangement causes.

The "2nd kingdom" of the book is after Suleika recovers from cancer. One would think after the intense, life and death struggle she's endured that making it to "the other side" would be all joy. To her surprise, she's experiencing a whole spectrum of feelings to work through that she never expected. It's as if she's another person now, and needs to find herself. While a patient in Sloan Kettering, she wrote articles about her real-time experience fighting cancer that was published as a recurring feature in the New York Times. Her resultant notoriety sparked a correspondence with other cancer warriors across the country. In a cathartic exercise, she embarked on a 100-day 15,000 mile car ride across the country to visit some of these people whom she had become close pen pals with. Being a New Yorker who relied on subways and taxis, she had only recently learned to drive. But a friend lent her his trusty Suburu and this too became a new rite of passage, learning to navigate the roads. So she packed up her dog Oscar and began her journey.

Like I alluded to earlier, I found her cancer fight in the hospital the most riveting to read. I was interested in the doctors, treatments, symptoms, etc. I also enjoyed reading about the hospital environment itself- like the other patients she encountered and the floors of the hospital she found most comforting. Suleika made close hospital friends and lost most of them to cancer along the way. This realm of the book hits you where you live, which is why I found it such an intense and moving read. I became a bit detached towards the end of the book when Suleika took her cross country trek. When she expounded on each family or person she visited, if it got too detailed I wasn't as interested. However, Suleika writes extremely well and overall this culminates in a high quality read.

Thank you to the publisher Random House for providing an advance reader copy via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Maria Roxana.
541 reviews
October 29, 2021
După o astfel de carte mă gândesc de două ori înainte de a susține că ceva este ”nedrept”, îmi voi reevalua atitudinea față de tot ceea ce înseamnă VIAȚĂ. Căci da, ”Între două lumi” este un elogiu adus vieții de către o femeie care s-a aflat pe marginea prăpastiei. O femeie alături de care aș fi călătorit în cele 100 de zile pe care și le-a oferit după ce a învins boala, o femeie puternică pe care mi-aș dori să o cunosc pentru că e genul de om care transmite speranță, care invită la îngăduință, dar și la acceptare.

Nu mă pot abține să nu fac o comparație: ce e mai dureros, ce e mai nedrept? Să afli că ai leucemie la 22 de ani sau faptul că trebuie să porți mască, să te vaccinezi și să respecți niște reguli PENTRU O PERIOADĂ DE TIMP? Retorice, da, dar cartea aceasta chiar merită o șansă.

”Operațiile și perioadele de convalescență ale lui Kahlo, iubirile și suferințele din dragoste au continuat să trăiască în picturile sale după ce ea a murit, iar în cele din urmă a căpătat un statut aproape legendar ca sfântă ocrotitoare a celor neadaptați și a celor bolnavi. Ar fi putut un om sănătos să picteze astfel de capodopere? m-am întrebat. Puteau fi opera cuiva care nu se confruntase niciodată cu fragilitatea îngrozitoare a corpului uman? Mă îndoiam. Eu nu eram Frida Kahlo, desigur, prin urmare nu știam încă cum să mă inspir din propria-mi nefericire. Însă povestea ei a stârnit ceva în mine. Am început să cercetez lungul șir de artiști și scriitori țintuiți la pat, care și-au transformat alchimic suferința în sursă de inspirație: Henri Matisse, convalescent în urma cancerului intestinal, a proiectat Capela Rozariului din Veneția pictând din pat tavanul apartamentului său cu o pensulă atașată de un băț lung. Marcel Proust și-a petrecut mare parte din viață la pat din cauza astmului și a depresiei severe care îl chinuiseră încă din copilărie și a scris cele șapte volume ale romanului În căutarea timpului pierdut dintr-un pat îngust din alamă căptușit cu plută, ca să-l protejeze de sunetele lumii din afară. Roald Dahl credea că durerea cronică de care suferea îi lansase cariera de scriitor: „Mă îndoiesc că aș fi scris vreun rând sau că aș fi fost în stare să scriu vreun rând dacă o tragedie oarecare nu mi-ar fi scos mintea de pe făgașul normal“, îi scria el unui prieten. În toate aceste cazuri, neputința fizică și limitările care decurgeau din ea au avut darul de a stimula imaginația și productivitatea.

Cum scria Frida Kahlo: „La ce-mi mai trebuie picioare când am aripi să zbor?“
M-am hotărât să-mi redefinesc supraviețuirea ca pe un act de creație. Dacă nu puteam vorbi din cauza aftelor provocate de chimioterapie, aveam să găsesc noi moduri de comunicare. Atâta vreme cât eram țintuită la pat, imaginația mea avea să devină vehiculul care îmi permitea să călătoresc dincolo de granițele camerei mele. Dacă trupul meu era atât de secătuit încât aveam numai trei ore funcționale pe zi, urma să-mi clarific prioritățile și să profit la maximum de timpul pe care-l aveam.”
Profile Image for jenny✨.
563 reviews803 followers
February 9, 2021
02/09/2021: HAPPY PUB DAY! So excited to have this out in the world.
I decided to reimagine my survival as a creative act.

A book such as this one deserves no less than 5 stars.

Grit, jubilance, pain, terror, ingenuity, heartbreak, and resilience—all are conveyed through Suleika Jaouad’s vibrant, compelling prose. This memoir delves into some of the heaviest topics a person will ever grapple with in their life, and then some.

When Suleika Jaouad was twenty-two, she began experiencing inexplicable symptoms. It started as an itchiness that spreads throughout her entire body, then morphed into bone-deep fatigue. Sores erupted in her mouth; she lost weight as quickly as she lost the motivation to attend her job as a paralegal in Paris. When the diagnosis arrived—a rare and aggressive form of leukaemia—Jaouad’s life was entirely, irrevocably derailed.

Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick,” Susan Sontag wrote in Illness as Metaphor. “Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

In the subsequent years, she undergoes numerous bouts of chemotherapy that ravage her as much as the cancer, seeping into every aspect of her life: her body; her relationships with friends, partners, and family; her once boundless aspirations to become a writer or foreign correspondent; her understanding of grief, mortality, and what it means to be present.

She eventually embarks on a 100-day road trip across the U.S. to visit several key individuals who supported her throughout the seemingly insurmountable trials and years of being a cancer patient.

The tangling of so much cruelty and beauty has made of my life a strange, discordant landscape. It has left me with an awareness that haunts the edges of my vision—it can all be lost in a moment—but it’s also given me a jeweler’s eye.

Jaouad’s narrative voice hits all the right notes to keep you reading. In fact, the resonance of her words is such that I promise there is something to ensnare every reader, regardless of who you are.

You do not have to be a young adult battling cancer, a child of immigrants, a woman with incredible grit, to understand, empathize, or find meaning. Importantly, this resonance does not, as Jaouad writes, “reduc[e] your suffering to sameness.”

As a person with a chronic health condition, I understood her frustrations with the medical system, the ways in which they failed her—neglecting to tell her that chemo might leave her infertile, for example. As a reader, I was utterly drawn into her storytelling, which invites us to be braver and more imaginative than ever before without ever requiring us to “find the silver lining.” And as an aspiring 23yo writer, I loved reading how she, an unpublished 23yo, pitched and was granted a weekly column with The New York Times; Cancer had made me brazen, she writes. The accompanying video series that she proposed and filmed for this column went on to win an Emmy.

To learn to swim in the ocean of not-knowing—this is my constant work.

Bottom line: Within these pages, I was simultaneously filled with Jaouad’s fear and her fire. Between Two Kingdoms is not only marvellous storytelling, it is also one woman’s struggle to make sense of a world that seems impossibly, devastatingly uncertain—and in the process, pares humanity down to its most compelling and compassionate core.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jessica.
325 reviews366 followers
March 1, 2021
Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad is a memoir about a woman’s cancer journey from diagnosis through life cancer free. Jaouad does a great job taking the reader through her cancer journey. Between Two Kingdom is the perfect mix of informative and emotional. Jaouad discusses everything she went through as well how cancer and her actions affected her loved ones. She was very open and honest. Jaouad wasn’t afraid to say things she messed up and how she should’ve done something differently. Suleika was graduating from college when she was diagnosed. The life she was planning to live changed into a life based around treatment without being able to work. Suleika has to find hobbies to fill her time that she is able to do while sick and tired from chemo. This is what got her into writing. Suleika is a strong woman and it is empowering to read her journey. Learning about Suleika’s cancer journey was very interesting but my favorite part of the book was her describing entering back into a cancer free world. I feel like this is something that isn’t discussed and is something I never would’ve thought of. Suleika goes on a roadtrip meeting other survivors and discusses their experiences. I highly recommend Between Two Kingdoms for anyone that is interested in learning about a strong woman’s cancer journey and learning to live without cancer.

Thank you Random House and NetGalley for Between Two Kingdoms.

Full Review: https://justreadingjess.wordpress.com...
Profile Image for Sharon Metcalf.
734 reviews164 followers
October 11, 2020
Between Two Kingdoms is the fabulously well written memoir of Suleika Jaouad.  Some readers may recognise her name from her Life, Interrupted column which was syndicated in numerous newspapers and magazines across America. This was a captivating book, both devastating and uplifting in equal measures.    Devastating because it tells of her cancer diagnosis at just 22 years of age, of the toll this disease took not just on her life but on the lives of her family, friends and the ways it negatively impacted a beautiful relationship.   Uplifting because despite all of those things she was a survivor struggling to pick up where life left off.   When she was beginning to succumb to depression she instead dusted herself off and regained control of her life and took steps to actively re-engage in life and to live it in a more positive manner.

There are not too many people whose lives are untouched in some way by cancer.  Not necessarily themselves but perhaps a work colleague, friend or family member.   It's a torturous ordeal for the patient and stressful for loved ones.    Suleika's story makes that blindingly obvious and highly relateable.   The suffering is not only physical though that's dreadful enough.   It's also pyschologically damaging, particularly when you're only 22 and continuously having near death experiences.    Suleika speaks openly and eloquently about her sense of loss, her resentment and the envy she felt towards those still living their lives and moving forward.  She writes of anger, of pain and of fear.     She admits to huge bouts of guilt at the financial burden she placed upon her parents on one hand and the pressure upon her brother to become a bone marrow donor on the other.  She made clear just how sad it was to make beautiful new friendships with other young cancer patients only to lose them and to then have to arrange their memorials. Each one of those factors made it hard to read Suleika's story.  

Possibly even more than all of those things I was saddened about the way the disease wreaked havoc on the beautiful relationship between Suleika and her boyfriend Will.   Suleika wrote with honesty and tenderness about the way Will took on the carer role and the sacrifices he made in his own life, the toll it took on him personally and professionally, and eventually the ways and reasons their relationship failed.   Though she was resentful and had clearly been angry, she eventually worked through her feelings and though she still loved him she was adult enough to acknowledge the ways she had been responsible for the ultimate failure of that relationship.   Her book had the feel of an ode to Will wrapped in an apology of sorts.

Post disease, not only was Suleika a new person in the sense of her changed DNA (thanks to her bone marrow transplant) but she needed to make a new life for herself, to figure out who she was now, what was important to her and how she could live within the physical limitations of her body.   Instead of remaining mired in the difficulties of living, of dwelling on how life was not what she hoped and planned it to be, now that she had technically survived, Suleika forced herself to make some changes.    In this spirit she embarked upon a 100 day roadtrip taking in 33 states meeting up with twenty of the people (strangers) whose words and thoughts helped sustain her during her cancer battle.   This was inspiring and showed the true grit Suleika had demonstrated throughout her illness.   

I cannot be more thankful to Jess from Penguin Random House for the invitation to read this tremendously moving memoir.    Thank you too to NetGalley for making this possible.  Finally my congratulations and thanks to Suleika for sharing her inspiring story. I wish her every happiness for her future and decades of good health to follow.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,460 reviews8,565 followers
March 16, 2023
Powerful and well-written memoir about receiving a leukemia diagnosis at age 22, fighting for her life for three and a half years undergoing chemotherapy, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant, and trying to rebuild herself after walking out of the cancer ward. I loved the way Suleika Jaouad wrote about her journey with leukemia though of course I wish she and others never suffered so much. She details her experience with vivid detail and self-awareness, so that readers can understand the depth of both her medical trauma as well as her own emotional processing. Jaouad packs so much insight into this memoir: the power of relationships even when life feels unbearable, using writing to gain a sense of control amidst uncontrollable pain, the thin line between wellness and illness, and much more.

In particular, I appreciated her reflection about her relationship with Will. I feel like it takes guts to so openly acknowledge when you messed up in a relationship; my sense is that that openness usually comes after someone has really reckoned and sat with the impact of their actions. I googled and saw that Jaouad was considered cured of her cancer though she relapsed in July 2022. I felt sad reading that news and I hope she and her loved ones are hanging in there as best as possible.
Profile Image for Kylie H.
902 reviews
February 9, 2021
The title of this book comes from a book by Susan Sontag that describes everyone as having dual citizenship in both the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. This book details a young woman's time in both kingdoms, each as equally hard to leave and enter as the other.
Suleika Jaouad is diagnosed with a rare from of leukaemia in her early twenties. Her world soon revolves around appointments, treatments and hospital wards.. Her social life is with her treating team and co-patients as well as her boyfriend Will who finds himself in a carer role and her parents who are beside themselves with worry.
Suleika endures a treatment that is not guaranteed to cure her and she is forced to face her own mortality. While coming to grips with all of this she is grieving for her fellow patients who succumb to their cancers.
On the flip side having survived her treatment she finds the journey back to the kingdom of the well just as overwhelming and difficult to face. She is no longer the same person, and she goes on a journey to connect with the people who wrote to her and helped her when she was at her lowest.
Not at all an easy book to read, but one that is quite profound with its honesty and raw insight into human nature. This is one that will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Gwendolina Toner.
18 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2021
A book of two parts, and the second part was disappointingly rushed. I enjoyed much of the book, though the author came across as quite self-centred and ungrateful towards her parents, brother and Will.
Profile Image for Karen R.
839 reviews496 followers
February 1, 2021
It began with an itch.

Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of twenty-two, Suleka’s story touches all the emotion buttons. Along with laser-sharp writing, thoughtful and insightful words, she journals her incredible journey living a precarious life with cancer and the impact on people within her orbit. Her courage, resilience and drive is inspirational.

During a long stint in the hospital and no ability to maintain a ‘regular’ job, Suleka starts writing a blog, picked up by The New Yorker and receives many letters of support. One of my favorite parts of the book is after Suleka’s health improves, she will set off on 100-day road trip covering fifteen thousand miles, through thirty-three states, and setting up visits to two dozen people who had sent her letters of encouragement and wisdom. Her road journey is full of surprises (and bad driving!). A deeply affecting memoir of spiritual and physical healing. Thanks to Random House for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,367 reviews542 followers
April 2, 2021
It’s time to step back into sunlight. It’s where I find myself now, on the threshold between an old familiar state and an unknown future. Cancer no longer lives in my blood, but it lives on in other ways, dominating my identity, my relationships, my work, and my thoughts. I’m done with chemo but I still have my port, which my doctors are waiting to remove until I’m “further out of the woods”. I’m left with the question of how to repatriate myself to the kingdom of the well, and whether I ever fully can. No treatment protocols or discharge instructions can guide this part of my trajectory. The way forward is going to have to be my own.

Referencing Susan Sontag’s assertion that “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick,” author Suleika Jaouad’s Between Two Kingdoms is an account of her experience with battling cancer in her early twenties, and what came after; not quite well and no longer sick, Jaouad found herself between the two kingdoms and without a road map out. This is a big — maybe slightly unrelatable — narrative because as an ambitious and hard-working young woman, Jaouad was probably always destined for a big life. It felt a little unrelatable that after graduating from Princeton, and after spending a few months of hard partying as an unpaid intern living in Manhattan, Jaouad decided to relocate to Paris; a little unrelatable that the instaconnection that she made with “Will” before she left the US would develop through texts and emails over the next few months until he decided to join her in Paris. When Jaouad’s strange and persistent medical symptoms (fatigue, itching, brain fog) finally leads to a diagnosis of leukaemia and she is urged to return to her family in New York state, it feels like a greater than average loss of a bigger than average future; it would make for bad fiction that Will follows her back to the States, moves into her parents’ home, and becomes one of Jaouad’s primary caregivers for the next few years. This is a big — if slightly unrelatable — narrative and it is well written, introspective, and as Jaouad was unable to find something similar to read when she was going through her years of therapy and its aftermath, I am sure this will serve as a valuable resource for others. As a general interest read, I would recommend this to anyone. (Note: I read an ARC and passages quoted may not be in their final forms. Spoilery from here.)

What would you write if you knew you might die soon? Bent over my laptop in bed, I traveled to where the silence was in my life. I wrote about my infertility and how no one had warned me of it. About learning to navigate our absurd healthcare system. About what it meant to fall in love while falling sick, and how we talk — or don’t talk — about dying. I wrote about guilt. I also wrote a will in case I fell on the wrong side of the transplant odds. To this day, I’ve never been more prolific. Death can be a great motivator.

Before Jaouad began her first aggressive round of chemo, and not finding much written about a young person’s experience with cancer, she decided to start a blog. When it unexpectedly went viral, she was able to turn the exposure into a series of columns for The New York Times ( Life, Interrupted ), and in the years that followed — as she and Will set up home together in her mother’s apartment in the Village — Jaouad was able to help support them with further writing and speaking gigs (she incidentally notes that she won an Emmy for the video series that accompanied her columns; this really isn’t an ordinary life).

Everything that Jaouad writes about her experience with cancer — the long journey to a diagnosis, her need to self-advocate, the treatments, making and losing friends from the cancer ward, the incredible strain on her family and Will — was very well written. From a social worker advising against Jaouad marrying Will (because she was on her father’s insurance and her upcoming bone marrow transplant alone would cost a million dollars) to the incredible pressure her brother was under as her marrow donor, Jaouad’s story made me think about things in new ways. But it’s in the second half of the book — when Jaouad starts to deal with what comes next — that her story enters territory I haven’t read about before.

After three and a half years, I am officially done with cancer — more than four years, if you start with the itch. I thought I’d feel victorious when I reached this moment — I thought I’d want to celebrate. But instead, it feels like the beginning of a new kind of reckoning. I’ve spent the past fifteen hundred days working tirelessly toward a single goal — survival. And now that I’ve survived, I’m realizing I don’t know how to live.

Will’s story — this incredible, ambitious but selfless partner and caregiver to someone he had only just met — was so present in the first half of the book that at one point I wondered why Jaouad was photographed solo (with her dog Oscar) on the cover; I flipped to the author bio at the back to see if it said she “lives with Will in X city” (it doesn’t mention a partner), and then I flipped to the Author’s Note at the beginning where Jaouad wrote which names were changed to preserve people’s anonymity, and I literally gasped when I saw the name “Will”. The ending of this relationship, while Jaouad wasn’t quite well yet, no doubt prompted what came next — a one hundred day solo cross-country drive to meet up with people who had written to Jaouad in the early days of her blog:

I buy a sheaf of road maps and spread them across the kitchen table. Tracing my finger along the curving purple lines of interstates, blue squiggles of rivers, and green swaths of national parks, my itinerary springs to life. The drive will sweep in a counter-clockwise circle around the country, going from the Northeast to the Midwest, through the Rocky Mountain states, down the West Coast, and across the Southwest and South, then finally back up the East Coast. I’ll travel roughly fifteen thousand miles, drive through thirty-three states, and visit more than twenty people. Oscar and I will go to a boarding school in Connecticut, an artist’s loft in Detroit, a ranch in rural Montana, a fisherman’s cottage on the Oregon coast, a teacher’s bungalow in the Ojai Valley, and an infamous prison in Livingston, Texas. We will go where the letters take us and see what we find.

The variety of people Jaouad meets on this trip (not all are cancer-related connections) give her a new perspective on life, and between the road trip and the writing of this memoir, you get the sense that she has finally found her path towards the kingdom of the well. Again, this part is maybe not super relatable — how many new cancer survivors would have the time, money, and freedom to make a trip like this one; how many have access to a family cabin in the woods in which to later write this memoir? — but again, I got the sense that Jaouad was always destined to live a bigger than average life, and that comes down to talent and drive more than just opportunities (but the opportunities don’t hurt). I was touched and enlightened by this whole thing and am glad to have picked this up.
Profile Image for Sara Budarz.
650 reviews25 followers
March 29, 2021
Somehow it feels heartless to not give a memoir about going through chemo more stars, but it honestly was just a meh read. I normally love reading memoirs and so at first couldn't figure out why this one just didn't work for me. It might have a bit to do with the fact that the author isn't exactly likeable - she is so incredibly mean to some people. And not that every story has to end with some revelation and emotional growth, but well, I think I was nonetheless surprised she never acknowledged how unfairly she treated others.

But I think the bigger issue I had was that somewhere midway through the book things weren't adding up. For example, there are so many aspects of her life during chemo that she never mentions: her travels, her career taking off, her speaking engagements. And then midway through the book she just just casually mentions all that had also been happening in the years she had been chronicling. In some memoirs this wouldn't have mattered, but since she had made her career and her inability to travel and socialize a theme about which she and her bf kept fighting, I sort of felt duped when I realized I had just been told a story that was heavily edited to try to win me over, without even pretending to follow the conventions of a memoir.
Profile Image for Karen.J..
212 reviews178 followers
February 28, 2022
Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

This book is absolutely mind blowing, I finished reading it a week ago and my mind is still digesting it. An amazing memoir of severe illness and the trials and tribulations towards a journey of recovery.
Definitely one of the very best books I have read.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,956 reviews485 followers
March 26, 2021
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

For those who enjoy non-fiction books, this memoir about the author's journey through cancer and life ever after was brutally honest. You're not going to find platitudes between its pages. As the author states "everyone wants to leave the kingdom of the sick eventually." But what does life look like after? What exactly is moving on?

Publication Date 09/02/2
Goodreads review 26/03/21

#BetweenTwoKingdoms #NetGalley

Profile Image for Lisa.
124 reviews54 followers
May 7, 2023
Life interrupted feels like an understatement. The summer after graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad moved to Paris to begin her life as adult and find her way in the world. She had an apartment, a job, independence, and a charming boyfriend when it all got turned upside down within a few months. After a diagnosis of a rare form of leukemia, the apartment, the job, and the independence disappear when she moves back home and begins four years of brutal cancer treatment.

The first part of the book chronicles Jaouad's heartbreaking and strenuous battle with cancer, filled with poignant observations about the immense frustrations and indignities brought about by being a cancer patient and the toll the illness takes on loved ones. The second part of the book evolves into an American road trip narrative as Jaouad travels the country in order to explore her freedom and start living again after years of being held hostage by cancer.

This is a memoir of Jaouad's illness and life after surviving the unsurvivable. The title is based on Susan Sontag's observation in Illness as Metaphor: "Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick," and Jaouad beautifully captures the complexities of navigating between the two kingdoms. And while this book is a cancer memoir, it also has echoes of a classic coming-of-age story which will probably feel very relatable to those who have mostly lived in the kingdom of the well. Although Jaouad first had to overcome unimaginable circumstances when she entered adulthood, she's still a young woman in her twenties sorting through her emotions and passions, working through the evolving nature of relationships and what she needs from a partner, and trying to find her place in the world.

Jaouad has crafted a touching, emotional, and thought-provoking memoir, and this is a great read if you're looking for inspiration and a magnificent illustration of resilience.
Profile Image for ♥ Sandi ❣	.
1,271 reviews8 followers
February 13, 2021
4 stars - Thanks to Random House for offering me an Arc of this book and NetGalley for the download.

For a debut book, this one is really good. Jaouad is very open and candid in her heartfelt story. Suleika Jaouad has her knees taken out from under her in the prime of her youth. She is diagnosed with leukemia.

This story is a total walk through from before her diagnosis to her remission and everything that came in between. The long hospital stays, the additional bouts with other surgeries, and the failure of her immune system. It chronicles the people she meets along the way, both those with and without various cancers. She relates her feelings, both with her caregivers and her family and how they end up growing out of balance. The men she loves and those who love her.

Jaouad completes her years of illness with a 'thank you' tour. She not only takes out on her own, with her beloved dog, Oscar, but she travels across the United States stopping to see various people who connected with her while she was undergoing her cancer treatments. Everyone from a camp cook to a man on death row.

Jaouad has had a difficult life, but tells her story amazingly well. By not running from the truth, she grabs your heart, at times leaving you breathless, and allows you to trail after her on her most often harrowing journey, always hoping for a good ending for a very graceful and talented young lady.
Profile Image for Lisa.
623 reviews236 followers
March 24, 2021
Between Two Kingdoms
A Memoir of a Life Interrupted
By Suleika Jaouad

A beautiful and lyrical portrait of a woman struggling to survive.


It began with an itch when she is a senior at Princeton. She is told it is nothing, maybe just stress-related. Shortly after Suleika Jaouad 21, graduates and moves to Paris. There, a doctor tells her that her red blood cell count indicates cancer. Jaouad is on the next plane back to New York to start a different kind of journey. She is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, with only a 35 percent chance of survival. Jaouad will spend the next five years in a battle for her life. Her new boyfriend and her parents are by her side while she received countless rounds of chemo, a clinical trial and a bone marrow transplant.

Jaouad chronicles her cancer treatment, her feelings and her experiences in a written and video blog. The blog goes viral and is published by the New York Times. She received countless heartbreaking letters and emails from readers, cancer survivors and cancer fighters wishing her well and sharing their experiences and stories.

As her cancer eventually enters remission at the age of 26, Jaouard feels disconnected from the real world. She is at an in-between place—no longer sick, but not well either. After watching fellow cancer patients die and her longtime boyfriend leave, she needs to find a way to move beyond the kingdom of the sick to the kingdom of the well. As a rite of passage to this new kingdom, Jaouad embarks on a trip to India and follows that trip by a 15,000 mile solo U.S. road trip visiting two dozen strangers whose letters had sustained her when she was sick.

“To learn to swim in the ocean of not-knowing- this is my constant work.”

Between Two Kingdoms is a beautiful and lyrical portrait of a woman struggling to survive when the odds are against her. It’s a gripping and gut-wrenching memoir full of depth and hopefulness.

Jaouad’s writing is honest, heartfelt and hauntingly descriptive. Readers will be amazed at her candor and will appreciate her fortitude and her bravery. It’s a must read book for 2021.

Jaouad, as only appropriate, narrates the audio version of this poignant and personal book. She gives a brilliant and emotionally intense performance. Her tone, pronunciations and pacing are perfect.

“The tangling of so much cruelty and beauty has made of my life a strange, discordant landscape. It has left me with an awareness that haunts the edges of my vision—it can all be lost in a moment—but it’s also given me a jeweler’s eye. If I’m thinking about my illness—abstracted from its impact on the people around me—then the answer is: No, I would not reverse my diagnosis if I could. I would not take back what I suffered to gain this.”

Publisher Random House
Published February 9, 2021
Narrated Suleika Jaouad
Review www.bluestockingreviews.com
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,492 reviews9 followers
February 28, 2021
3.5 stars

When Suleika Jaouad is diagnosed at age 22 with leukemia, she is in what feels like the happiest place in her life. Living in Paris with a man who loves her unconditionally, both of them were on the cusp of new careers and adventures. The diagnosis sends her back to her parents' home and the specialists in New York, followed closely by her soon-to-be fiancé, for what will turn into four years of chemo, a bone marrow transplant, and hospital stays. This will be, obviously, the hardest part of her young life and a test of all her relationships. In treatment she meets a myriad of new people, fellow cancer patients and their families. As writing a blog, a journal, and then a column in the New York Times becomes her therapy, she also receives hundreds of letters from strangers telling of their experiences and thanking her for sharing hers.

The first half of the book is all about her horrible experience with cancer and how it affected her and her boyfriend's feelings about each other. Suleika was naturally focused on herself and what she needed, as she was very dependent on others to keep her on track. Her boyfriend was amazing, even when he needed occasional time off.

The second half has a recovering Suleika making a 100-day trip around the U.S. to visit fellow sufferers, some old acquaintances, but most new. She was really brave (or naive) to do this with no one else but her adorable rescue mutt.

The first half read very much like my own journals from when I had cancer, which I consider rather amateurly written and self centered. Having cancer makes you obsessed about what's happening to you, so this was not surprising. Even so, I was not made to like her writing or her personality much until the traveling began. Both of those improved greatly in Part 2. That journey obviously cleansed her soul and she wrote about the experience with finesse.

I used to think healing meant ridding the body and the heart of anything that hurt. It meant putting your pain behind you, leaving it in the past. But I’m learning that’s not how it works. Healing is figuring out how to coexist with the pain that will always live inside of you, without pretending it isn’t there or allowing it to hijack your day. It is learning to confront ghosts and to carry what lingers. It is learning to embrace the people I love now instead of protecting against a future in which I am gutted by their loss. - Suleika Jaouad, in my complimentary e-copy courtesy of Penguin Random House and NetGalley.
Profile Image for Sheena.
601 reviews264 followers
February 28, 2021
Suleika Jaouad’s writing is incredible. Her story is heart breaking and she is such a strong person. I would love to read more of her work in the future. I lack the proper words to describe how much I recommend this memoir. It made me tear up a few times and I loved reading about the different people she met in her journey. I thought the beginning and end was very engrossing but the middle part did drag a bit for me. I really loved the last 30% because Jaouad went on a lone road trip across America and that sounds so fun. I find her incredibly inspiring and her story offers loss, grief, but also hope, love, and overcoming hardships.

Thank you so much for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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