Memoir Book Review: Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

by Matilda Butler on January 6, 2010

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #34 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Reviewed by Janet Riehl

Memoir Searches Fruits of Closer Union
If you are a fan of Sue Monk Kidd’s best-selling novels The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair. If you are a student of memoir. If you are nurtured by feminine spirituality. If travel writing fascinates you. If you are introspective and inquire deeply into transition. Then, this book is for you.


In Traveling with Pomegranates Mother and daughter writing team Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor tell their stories in alternating chapters that gradually weave into one story. Underscored by the Demeter-Persephone myth, mother and daughter meet and come into closer union with Athena, the Black Madonna, and Joan of Arc. Their story is one of finding a spiritual source, following these messages, and embodying a revealed path in the physical world.

The pomegranates in the title refer to the myth of Demeter and Persephone, the Greek goddesses who rule over the growth and death of the earth’s vegetation. In this archetypal story, Hades kidnapped Persephone, and she became goddess of the underworld. Because she’d eaten the forbidden pomegranate seeds, she had to agree to spend two thirds of the year in the underworld. Demeter, her mother, naturally had a few things to say about that.

Between 1998 to 2000 Sue and Ann embarked on several trips from their home in South Carolina to Greece, Turkey, and France. Each woman’s chapters are simply labeled “Sue” and “Ann.” This makes for an interesting structure as their stories circle around each other searching for the congruence between their lives and the complex symbolism they probe during their pilgrimages and back home.

Sue is turning 50, facing menopause, ruminating on aging and mortality. She yearns to become a novelist. Sue feels the tug of the changing relationship with her daughter as Ann moves into the wider world. She explores the paradox that she must let go more fully of Ann in order for mother and daughter to become more intimate.

Ann, in her early 20s, searches for her purpose and work in life. She plunges into a depression when her application to graduate school is rejected, thus dashing her dream of making a passion for Greece into her life’s work. As the book progresses Ann deepens into herself, finds love and begins her apprenticeship of becoming a writer.

In a curious act of synchronicity her wish to write becomes a reality in the book we hold in our hands as we read her story. In a curious way, writing itself is a character in Pomegranates as mother and daughter journal on their journeys (“I took out my red spiral notebook…”) and then transform these journal entries into a book. Both struggle with their paths as writers…and writing as a career path.

Traveling with Pomegranates seems to be one of those books that readers and reviewers either love or hate. For me it’s the beautiful writing and piercing insights that draw me in. But, studying craft and memoir structure keeps me there.

As I read, these questions of craft surface. Each reader will come to her own answers to these questions. 1) Does writing in the present tense work to evoke immediacy? 2) Does the alternating chapter structure serve this book? How? 3) Is there too much repetition of the mythic themes or does this work as repetition and recurrence? 4) Could the book be pared down and become more shapely? 5) What is the story and character arc? 6) Is the introspection self-indulgent? 7) How does this book relate to my life and reveal truths to guide it?

Writing prompt: Turn some of the questions about into larger questions about your own memoir writing. For example: What do you think about writing in the present tense?

Related reading: “Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna,” by China Galland, (Penguin, 1990, 392 pages, notes and index included) A story of pilgrimage, travel writing, and spiritual transformation.

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You can purchase Janet Riehl’s audio book Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/janetgraceriehl

Janet welcomes you to become a Riehlife Villager at https://www.riehlife.com



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