Likely Stories : The Book of Two Ways, by Jodi Picoult

Apr 1, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

When I was in about seventh grade, I came upon a book which aroused my interest in Egyptology.  The book was Gods, Graves, and Scholars.  I read at least the Egyptian part of that book numerous times a year.  I have many shelves stuffed with my collection of books on ancient Egypt.  Then, my wife suggested I might like to read a novel by Jodi Picoult, The Book of Two Ways.  My interest in Egypt exploded anew.

 

Picoult writes about her main character, Dawn McDowell.  Quote, “In a previous life, I had been planning to be an Egyptologist.  I fell in love with the culture first, when we studied Ancient Egypt in fourth grade.  I remember standing at the top of the jungle gym and feeling the wind and pretending that I was in a felluca, crossing the Nile.  My prize possession is a guidebook from the Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh exhibit that my mother had found at a secondhand bookshop.  In high school, I took French and German, because I knew that I would need those languages to translate research.  I applied to colleges that offered Egyptology programs, and studied on full scholarships at the University of Chicago. //” (12-13).

There are two main characters in Picoult’s novel.  McDowell and her husband and child, which I will set aside in favor of McDowell and her years at Yale with Wyatt—a competitor in the digs--and her times in the Egyptian dessert.  Jodi wrote, “The first passage I ever translated from the Book of Two Ways was Spell 1130:  As for any man who knows this spell, he will be like Re in the sky, like Osiris in the Netherworld, and into the circle of fire he will descend, but no flame will be against him forever and ever” (14).

The story continues, “The next morning, I was the first one in the small seminar room where Ian Dumphries, the head of Egyptology at Yale, had invited all of this year’s graduate students to kick off the academic year.  I’d already met him during interviews when I was applying to the doctorate program.  Unlike many other Egyptologists, he didn’t focus only on one narrow facet of the discipline, such as mud brick architecture or the battle of Kadesh or Egyptian grammar.  He published widely about all sorts of topics. […] Given what I hoped to write for my dissertation, I wanted a mentor who was open-minded.  I found Dumphries utterly brilliant and equally terrifying, so I was surprised when he greeted me by my name.  ‘McDowell,’ he said.  ‘Welcome to Yale’” (22).

If the Egyptology is too much, you can skip to the tense struggle between Dawn and Brian.  But there is plenty of interesting and exciting elements in Jodi Picoult’s fascinating story The Book of Two Ways.  5 stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!