Learning through Fiction: A Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Published by Ballantine Books, September 22, 2020

Genre: Beach Read

Format: I audiobooked this one via Libby

Jodi Picoult wrote this book after extensive research, including conversations with Dr. Colleen Darnell, an Egyptologist who taught at Yale and is known across social media as the Vintage Egyptologist. If you like fiction that teaches, this might be one you'd like. The novel includes tidbits about

* Ancient and modern Egypt

*Archaeology and anthropology

* Life as an academic

* Plane crashes

* Astronomical theory of a multiverse

* Death doulas and hospice care

*Olde Irish superstitions

*Different types of tears 

Outside of all the factual tidbits, there's the story of Dawn, a middle-aged woman who after 15 years of family life in the suburbs, wonders what life would have been like had she chosen a different path, a different man. 

The story alternates between life at home and life in Egypt on the dig site, so at first, I wondered if Picoult was writing Dawn's two alternate lives, a Sliding Doors organization reflecting the title. The ancient Egyptian artifactual Book of Two Ways is a guide to the Ancient Egyptian underworld, but maybe this novel was also a book showing both of Dawn's alternate lives. Egypt and Seattle come together in the end?  It became clear midway into the book that Dawn has just one life with her scientist husband, teen daughter, and colleague and love interest from her youth.

Morose as it seems, I really enjoyed Picoult's tidbits about death and death doulas. The Ancient Egyptians took care in preparing for death and the afterlife. To most US dwellers, death is an afterthought or something to avoid considering altogether. As a death doula, Dawn helps her clients plan for, accept, and move toward death, supporting them in wrapping up dreams and assisting caregivers and loved ones in managing expectations and ultimately coping with loss. Having walked with hundreds of clients through the process of dying, Dawn knows the stages of dying and can serve as another pragmatic and reassuring voice in the room.

Of course, there's a love story involved in this book, but I found the love parts of the story cheesy. Some spark was missing between Dawn and her love interests. Even though I'm sure the love sagas were written realistically, I didn't find them interesting.


“Ancient Egyptians believed that the first and most necessary ingredient in the universe was chaos. It could sweep you away, but it was also the place from which all things start anew.” 


I'm not sorry I read it. I've always been intrigued by Egyptian culture, and the factual tidbits were enough to carry me through the book. The story was a necessary carrier for the information, but I didn't find the story as engaging as it might have been.

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