Daughter of the Queen of Sheba: A Memoir

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba: A Memoir

3.5 2
by Jacki Lyden
     
 

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As an adult, National Public Radio foreign correspondent Jacki Lyden has spent her life on the front lines of some of the world's most dangerous war zones. As a child, she lived in a war zone of a different kind. Her mother, Dolores, suffered from what is now called manic depression; but when Jacki was growing up in a small Midwestern town, Dolores was

Overview

As an adult, National Public Radio foreign correspondent Jacki Lyden has spent her life on the front lines of some of the world's most dangerous war zones. As a child, she lived in a war zone of a different kind. Her mother, Dolores, suffered from what is now called manic depression; but when Jacki was growing up in a small Midwestern town, Dolores was simply called crazy. In her manic phases, Dolores became Marie Antoinette or the Queen of Sheba, exotically delusional and frightening, yet to young Jacki also transcendent, even inspiring. In time, Jacki grew to accept, even relish, Dolores's bizarre episodes, marveling at her mother's creative energy and using it to fuel her own. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and lyrical, this memoir of a mother-daughter relationship is a testimony to obstinate devotion in the face of bewildering illness.

Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
Dreamypoetic prose. . .
Chicago Tribune
The great strength of Lyden's memoir lies. . .in the poetic power and virtuosity of her language. . .a beautiful family testament.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One day in 1966, when the author was 12, she returned home from school to find her mother, Dolores, garishly made up and convinced that she was the Queen of Sheba. For the next 20 years, Lyden and her two younger sisters were subjected to their delusional parent's frequent episodes of manic-depressive behavior. In vivid and gripping prose, the author describes how her childhood was disrupted when her beloved father became deaf and was later divorced by Dolores, who then married an abusive physician. Lyden's stepfather institutionalized Dolores and prescribed inappropriate drugs for her. He also beat his stepdaughters until he and Dolores divorced. The author, a correspondent for National Public Radio, conveys her feelings of helplessness during these years, when her mother struggled to support them by working as a waitress between periods of mental illness. She also clearly expresses her love and empathy for Dolores, who now functions on Lithium. Lyden provides as well a sharply etched portrait of her eccentric grandmother.
Library Journal
In this colorful memoir, Lyden, senior correspondent for National Public Radio, describes her early life as the daughter of a mother suffering from manic depression. In her manic states, Dolores Lyden had delusions of power and acted on them. She was the Queen of Sheba, a hostess of bizarre dinner parties, a promoter of outrageous business ventures. Dolores' imaginative escapades inspired Lyden in her career as a journalist covering the Persian Gulf War, taking risks, rising to challenges, and facing unforeseen danger. As her illness progressed, Dolores defied every attempt made by her daughters to force her to seek treatment until she was finally arrested for assaulting a judge at a court hearing. Lyden has written a brilliantly descriptive, fast-moving tribute to her mother's vanquished eccentric alter ego. -- Lucille M. Boone, San Jose Public Library, California
Booknews
In this memoir, Lyden (foreign correspondent for National Public Radio) writes about her past, in particular her relationship with her mother, who was manic-depressive (though her small midwestern community simply saw her as 'crazy') and married to a villainous local doctor.
Kirkus Reviews
Three powerful women form the backbone of this beautifully written narrative about the wish, both rational and not, to be elsewhere: crusty, earthy Mabel; her daughter Dolores, the self-styled Queen of Sheba in her manic visions; and the author, Dolores's daughter, a reporter for NPR. Anyone who has heard Lyden's crisp journalistic voice on the radio will be surprised by the lush (at times overly lush) imagery and riptides of emotion that characterize her writing in this memoir of her mother's madness. Compassion, fury, love, hatred—all battle within Lyden during three decades in which Dolores's periodic bouts of mania disrupt her and her two sisters' lives. Her rage with Dolores's refusal to accept treatment jostles with her wonder at the rich fantasies her mother creates and admiration for the sensual vitality and sheer force of will that keep her alive. In one of the tragicomic scenes related here, Lyden brings some friends home to her small Wisconsin town for a local celebration, only to find a mother who fancies herself Marie Antoinette, dressed only in 'a black bustier with garters, which dangle over a transparent lilac half-slip.' With each manic outburst, Mabel, who has a mouth like a sewer and a spine of steel, calls Lyden with her plaintive refrain, 'Cantcha come up, Jack? Cantcha come up?' With her education and artistic gift frustrated by her father, a first husband who became deaf after falling off a roof, a second husband who was wealthy and abusive (the click in Lyden's jaw is a permanent reminder of the time he smashed her head against a wall)—Dolores' life gives her good reason to flee. Lyden links her own journalist's wanderlust to her mother's escapeinto madness, and finds herself in places like Iraq and northern Ireland, where the whole world seems crazier than Dolores. Lyden memorably illuminates both the alluring fantasy and the shocking reality of madness in a volume filled with poetry and awe.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140276848
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/28/1998
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,296,832
Product dimensions:
5.04(w) x 7.71(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Jacki Lyden is known to many as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, a vocation which has brought her to the front lines of some of the world's most precarious regions. But in this memoir, she tells of the precariousness of her childhood and of her struggles growing up with her manic depressive mother. Beautiful, with a quick imagination and a constant yearning for a wider life than the one she was offered in her small Wisconsin town, Dolores Lyden filled her daughters' lives with the uncertainty that comes from parental instability. Her divorce from her first husband, a man who was dearly loved by his three daughters, was the initial blow to their family life. But her subsequent, and ultimately destructive marriage to a wealthy physician triggered the primary episode of Dolores' manic depression—and sent Jacki and her sisters lives' into a freefall of confusion and chaos that would last for two decades.

 

ABOUT JACKI LYDEN

Jacki Lyden is a regular substitute host on NPR's Weekend Edition and Weekend All Things Considered. She was part of the award-winning NPR team that covered the Persian Gulf War. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Praise

"One of the most indelible portraits of a mother-daughter relationship to come along in years, a book that belongs on the shelf of classic memoirs, alongside The Liars' Club by Mary Karr and Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt... A book that stands, remarkably, as both a reporter's unsentimental act of recollection and a love letter to an impossible and captivating woman."

The experience of living within a universe without light, prediction and a world you can name—this is experience of living, I think, in the absence of reason. This was my mother's distant and unreachable, unknowable world of delusion. Daughter of the Queen of Sheba attempts to enter that world in the only way we can...by framing it, by turning on the light, by giving it a vocabulary and imposing a circular chronology. In the real world, I was fascinated by the roots of my mother's mental illness. Madness was for me the sheer vocabulary of the imagination. And yet, in the real world, you cannot have a dialogue with someone who is mad—who is delusional. You can attempt it, but it will be what turning the pages of a book is to reading, or listening to a melody you know in a language you cannot quite catch. On the page, however, I could have a dialogue with the Queen of Sheba. I could define her terms, so to speak. I could give her a history, a reason to become an all-conquering power. I could speak back to her where in real life I was nothing but one of her more difficult subjects. This time, in the world on the page I had my own sense of authority in what was previously her dominion. She could hardly answer me back or turn away from me. Writing was a chance to meet her in her own country, the country of the imagination, and capture her, on the page, as I could never hope to do in life. In real life of course, my mother is a free spirit—here, I have her down, one interpretation anyway. Sometimes I imagine Daughter of the Queen of Sheba like a verse poem, written by an apostle long after the act...it's a canon about or a mythology about an almost mystical event. that dialogue in your own imagination of who you are and who is that "other" that you may or may not be able to pull from the well, you have a dialogue. What you choose to do with it, of course, is up to you. My mother sometimes says she will write her own book. Whether she does or not, I will always love the fact that she has the courage which gave me the encouragement to write this one. This book is a testament to her courage, and that you can survive being shattered, even when you do not think that is possible. Her courage gave me this book, and I am in turn, giving it to you.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JACKI LYDEN

With your talent for writing I'm surprised you didn't become a print journalist. Is there something about radio—its anonymity, perhaps—that draws you to that medium?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Lyden says she was a diarist from the time she could write. How do you think writing helped her cope with her mother's illness? How may her mother's illness have contributed to Jacki's talent for writing?

What People are saying about this

Carolyn See
With exquisite control and elegant decorum, Jackie Lyden presents us with an incredibly compelling narrative of insanity, imagination gone wild, and unconquerable love between mother and daughter.
—Carolyn See, author of Dreaming: A Family Memoir

Meet the Author

Jacki Lyden is a regular substitute host on NPR's Weekend Edition and Weekend All Things Considered. She was part of the award-winning NPR team that covered the Persian Gulf War. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Daughter of the Queen of Sheba: A Memoir 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Heartbreaking, hilarious, lyrical, this memoir is a mother-daughter story of the most unique and dramatic kind, a testimony to obstinate devotion in the face of bewildering illness. Lyden recalls her calamitous childhood with a child¿s aching regret and an adult¿s keen wisdom. An abusive, rich doctor became her step-father for a time and she describes tragic physical and mental abuse. Lyden, an extremely descriptive and imaginative writer, is a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio and has spent much of her adult life on the frontlines of dangerous war zones in the world. Her childhood was a war zone of a different kind. Her mother suffered from mental illness and in the days when medical help for this was surreptitious, she was often labeled crazy. ¿By the time I was fourteen,¿ Lyden writes, ¿religious epiphanies were occurring in our house fairly often, and not only to my mother. I loved Communion because I liked the idea of taking a bite out of Christ Jesus. ¿I was armed by this tribal ritual, the fallen comrade who has died and given me his vital flesh to live. ¿ In church, we could all go a little crazy. ¿My teen group was taken into Milwaukee to hear an evangelistic speaker, a Mr. David Wilkerson, who blessed us by touching our forehead if we came up on stage, as I did. He talked about all the juvenile delinquents in New York City and how he personally was saving them¿ You could read about his exploits in his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, available in the lobby.¿ Lyden documents her travels, letters home, and the devotion to her mother. Trish New, author of The Thrill of Hope, South State Street Journal, and Memory Flatlined.