A mother and daughter travel to Greece, Turkey, France and home to South Carolina and provide their respective perspectives on the experience. Sue Monk Kidd (the well-known author of The Secret Life of Bees) is reflecting about her life and turning 50, while her daughter Ann navigates periods of depression, self-doubt and uncertainty about her future, her career and sense of self-worth. The consistent and similar traits that hold the story together, as well as both authors (one to the other), are the love; respect and admiration each have for the other. Sue writes, “The laughter has cracked the heaviness that formed around us like tight, brittle skin, and even now delivers me peeled and fresh to this moment, to Ann, to myself.”
Traveling With Pomegranates is a combination of memoir, journal writing and travelogue, which takes readers to places that will be familiar (externally and internally) and others that seem to fit for the author’s reflections alone. There are times when the prose is engaging, such as when Sue is speaking about turning 50 and says, “The spiritual composition of the Old Woman, not through words, but through the wisdom of a journey” is an apt summation of how she is seeing herself at that time. Many may find it hard to think of 50 as “old”, but it is used in this context as a starting point to look at change, old age, death and birth. At other times, it seems as if the writing should have been left in a private journal or in letters shared between mother and daughter. Not because of any private content or big secrets, but because it had no weight or meaning for a larger audience.
Sue has long had a kinship with the Black Virgin and used it as metaphor and object throughout her novel The Mermaid Chair. She speaks of it in length once again, on their visit to see the statue of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour in France. “As I look at her, my throat tightens and I dig through my bag for the travel-size Kleenex. Just in case. I’m not sure what moves me about her, only that she’s beautiful to me. Someone vacates a chair, and I sit down, staring at the flinty old Virgin until the tears really do start to leak. I rub them away and focus on the back of Ann’s brown hair. Ann’s fingers, I notice, are curled around the stubby piece of chain, and I wonder what she has decided about it. What I will decide about mine… I know suddenly what moves me about the Black Virgin of Rocamadour: She’s the Old Woman. It comes with some surprise, as if the bird on the altar has just pecked me on the forehead.”
While her mother is having the previous insights and feelings, Ann is writing about hers. “I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth? The two of us praying like this to the Black Madonna suddenly washes over me, and I’m filled with love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough. I look up at Mary and concede what I am coming to know. I will become a writer.”
It is obvious that traveling together and writing about it were important for the author’s lives. Whether their reflections and insights are also of relevance for those outside their family will have to be left up to others to decide. This reader has mixed feelings about Traveling with Pomegranates, and doesn’t expect those feelings to be any less cloudy in the foreseeable future.