A powerful story about moral choices

The book of two ways

Title: THE BOOK OF TWO WAYS
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publication year: 2020
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group (GB)
ISBN Code: 9780593237762
Price: RM79.90

BY NOOR SYAHHIRA HADY

Bestselling author Jodi Picoult’s latest book is written to tell the stories of Dawn Edelstein. It begins with Dawn, who is balancing the stressors of her career as a death doula, living in Boston, married to Brian with their beloved 14-year-old daughter, Meret, who has body image issues.

However, everything changes when she is on a plane that is about to crash. For someone who makes a living through death, she has not given a lot of thought to her own death. As she braces herself, thoughts start to flash through her mind.

Shockingly, she did not picture her husband, Brian, his sweater streaked with inevitable chalk dust from the old-school blackboards in his physics lab. Or Meret, as a little girl, asking her to check for monsters under the bed. Nor does she envision her mother, but the flashes that she sees is of a man she loved and last saw 15 years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.

Dawn remembered the time when she was in Egypt with Wyatt who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a job she once studied for, but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened.

When she miraculously survives the crash, she realises that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.

After the crash landing, the airline ensures the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers them transportation wherever they want to go. The options for Dawn is to continue down the path she is on which is to go home to her family or to return to the archaeological site she left years ago while reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, as well as to complete her research on ‘The Book of Two Ways’ which is about the first known map of the afterlife.

From here on, readers are presented to read on the narrative that shifts locations and time to go down two possible paths for Dawn, and the ancient Egyptian beliefs and text of ‘The Book of Two Ways’ on the path towards reaching the afterlife.

After the incidents, for me, I had a hard time in keeping up with the shift of narrative on Dawn’s past life and her present life. Dawn’s story starts from 15 years ago in Egypt by flashbacks.

She once had dreams of pursuing a career in Egyptology. She spent semesters of her collegiate life immersed in the tombs, recovering mummified remains, and deciphering hieroglyphics. In that period of her life, Wyatt dominated her heart, challenged her mentally, and incited a passion that she failed to experience since. But unforeseen circumstances and her resulting decisions made him the one that got away.

Dawn’s story flips between time and place, from past to present but interestingly, the two paths successfully intertwine.

Along the line, as the story unfolds, her two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried beside them. She slowly confronts the questions she’s never truly asked: What does a life well-lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices or do our choices make us? And who would you be, if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?

I have to say, reading this novel opens up a realisation within me. For starters, Dawn is an interesting woman. She gave up her dream of being an Egyptologist, when she received word that her mother was dying, and she needed to leave Egypt and return home. There she had to prepare for her mother’s death and raise her much younger brother. She had to leave Egypt and Wyatt behind. She meets Brian soon thereafter.

Although it looks like her life is ‘well’ — getting married, and having a family, on the inside, she is beset with regrets. The flashbacks made her realised what could have been with Wyatt. Her present life is a marriage under pressure, and it raises the issues of what constitutes a ‘love affair’ and infidelity.

Dawn works as a death doula, helping her terminal clients prepare for death with compassion and love, and supporting grieving families, clients such as Win, whose issues resonate so strongly with Dawn too. Long story short, she has so much on her plate and when the best moments in her life flashes through her eyes — having to pursue her dream job and be with someone she loves — it made her doubt her life choices entirely.