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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 a foreign correspondent for NPR, Jacki Lyden has spent her adult life on the frontlines in some of the most dangerous war zones in the world. Her childhood was a war zone of a different kind. Her mother suffered from what we now call manic depression; when Jacki was a child in a small Wisconsin town, her mother was simply called crazy. In her delusions, she was a


As a foreign correspondent for NPR, Jacki Lyden has spent her adult life on the frontlines in some of the most dangerous war zones in the world. Her childhood was a war zone of a different kind. Her mother suffered from what we now call manic depression; when Jacki was a child in a small Wisconsin town, her mother was simply called crazy. In her delusions, she was a woman with power: Marie Antoinette or the Queen of Sheba. In her real life, she had married the nefarious local doctor, who drugged her to check her moods and terrorized the children to keep them quiet. Holding their lives together was Jacki's hardscrabble Irish grandmother, a woman who had her first child at the age of fourteen and lost her husband in a barroom brawl. Lyden vividly captures the seductive energy of her mother's delusions, which were both an inspiration and a threat as she set out on her own impassioned journey. In her twenties she joined a traveling rodeo. Later, as a radio journalist, she interviewed Arafat and maneuvered her way through Baghdad at the height of the Persian Gulf War. Always, her mother's exotic fantasies were an irresistible lure. Like Mary Karr in THE LIAR'S CLUB and Tobias Wolff in THIS BOY'S LIFE, Jacki Lyden portrays her unstable mother with a child's aching regret and an adult's keen wisdom. In DAUGHTER OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA, three remarkable women -- mother, daughter, and grandmother -- reveal their obstinate devotion to each other against all odds, and their scrappy genius for survival.

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
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.

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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"I am the Queen of Sheba, my mother announced to me in a regal voice. She had taken the silky yellow sheets from her voluptuous bed and twisted them around and around her torso like a toga, leaving one shoulder, as white as a gardenia, bare except for her bra strap. The sheets were hooked together with heirloom antique pins. On her arms she'd drawn hieroglyphics in eyeliner. My mother's long auburn hair was swept up and crowned with an old tiara that we girls had played with as little children, pretending to be lost princesses . . . I was alone in the house with her, but she might have been on another continent. I could not follow her. I went to phone my grandmother at her bungalow. She didn't believe me for a moment, she said. Then she told me not to tell anyone and to stay in my bedroom until she arrived. . . Sheba was a vision, and she vanished that afternoon into the twilight. I have been watching wearily for her ever since, but never so hard as when my mother slips off into the caverns where the past and present and future play the triple bill. You can say that my life as her daughter, the life of my imagination, began with my mother's visions."

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 former senior correspondent for Nation Public Radio. An expert in the Middle East, she was a part of the award-winning NPR team that covered the Persian Gulf War. Her other journalism awards include the 1990 National Mental Heath Association Media Award for investigative reporting on mental health care.

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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.