Book review and synopsis for The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult, a exploration of Egyptology, death and two possible futures.
In The Book of Two Ways, Dawn Edelstein is a woman who has been in a plane crash. As she contemplates another life she could have lived, the book branches off into two timelines. In the first, she goes home to Boston, where she has her daughter Meret and her husband, Brian. In another, she goes to Egypt to pick up where she'd once left off from being a graduate student in the Egyptology program. It's also where she'd once left her former flame, Wyatt, behind.
As Dawn traverses these two timelines, she considers the decisions she's made in her life and what she wants her future to look like.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chapter SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of The Book of Two WaysQuick Plot Summary
The Book of Two Ways opens with Dawn Edelstein surviving a plane crash. From there, it switches back and forth between two timelines. In one, Dawn goes home to her husband and daughter in Boston.
In another, she goes to Egypt where she'd once worked as a Yale graduate student 15 years ago, pursuing a career in Egyptology. She paused her graduate studies to care for her mother who had cancer. Afterwards, she withdrew to become a guardian for her younger brother, Kieran (their father died in active duty).
In the Egypt timeline, Dawn finds her way back to the Yale dig site. As a student, Dawn's research had been in the Ancient Egyptian "coffin texts", one of which was the Book of Two Ways. The Book of Two Ways includes a map that shows two routes that one can take in the afterlife. In present day at the dig site, she finds Wyatt Armstrong, an old flame, who is now the Director of Egyptology at Yale. Wyatt has since discovered a previously unknown tomb which he is in the process of unearthing.
In the Boston timeline, Dawn continues her work as a death doula, helping to ease the transition for patients at the end of their lives. Dawn went into hospice work after caring for her mother. She'd also met her husband, Brian, during that time and had gotten pregnant with their daughter, Meret. In present day, Dawn works on fixing her marriage with Brian, a physics professor at Yale. They'd gotten in a fight over Brian's relationship with Gita, a post-doc working under him. While nothing had happened yet, Brian had missed Meret's birthday party because he was with Gita. Meanwhile, Meret is a teenager who struggles with her weight.
In the Egypt timeline, Wyatt agrees to let Dawn stay and work at the dig site. As student, they had initially knocked heads because their research areas overlapped, but their relationship had later become romantic. In present day, Wyatt asks Dawn why she is here, but Dawn is unable to admit that her curiosity about what a life with him would have been like drew her there. As the days pass, they reach a big event, the unearthing of the tomb's burial chamber. Even more exciting is the discovery that the chamber is fully intact. Upon further inspection, they also find the earliest iteration of the Book of Two Ways known in existence.
In the Boston timeline, Dawn and Brian work to repair their relationship, and Brian makes an effort to be more thoughful. Meret gets made fun of by kids in her summer program, but soon enrolls a new program where she meets a P.E. teacher who is supportive of her. Meanwhile, Dawn takes on a new client, Win, who is a painter. Win confides in Dawn about her son Arlo, who died of an overdose at 16. Arlo's father was an art professor, Thane Bernard, who Win had once had an affair with. Now, Win wants Dawn to track Thane down and deliver a letter informing him about Arlo.
In the Egypt timeline, Dawn knows she must go home, since her family is concerned over her absence. But instead she tells Wyatt she loves him, and they sleep together. But the next morning his fiancé and the financier of the dig, Anya Dailey, shows up. Dawn is angry at Wyatt for not telling her about Anya. But Wyatt points out that Dawn is married.
In the Boston timeline, Dawn is about to leave for London to deliver Win's letter to Thane when Meret gets the results of a mail-in DNA test that she had done. The results indicate that Brian is not Meret's biological father, and Dawn realizes that Wyatt is Meret's father. Dawn goes to London, but then heads directly to Egypt.
(At this point in the book, it's revealed that the Boston and Egypt timelines are not two separate realities, but rather the Egypt stuff happens after the Boston stuff.) So, in Egypt everything happens (with Dawn finding Wyatt and them uncovering the burial chamber and sleeping together, etc), ending with Dawn telling Wyatt what she has recently learned, which is that he is Meret's father. In response, Wyatt asks to meet Meret, and soon Dawn and Wyatt are on a plane headed toward Boston.
The plane they are on starts going down (and at this point, it's revealed that the plane crash in the beginning of the book actually happens after both the Boston and Egypt timelines). Dawn and Wyatt both survive, and Brian meets Dawn in the hospital. Dawn admits to Brian what has happened between her and Wyatt. Brian decides to give her space to sort out what she wants, with the hope that she will choose him in the end.
After Dawn and Wyatt make it back to Boston, Wyatt meets Meret and begins to get to know her. Brian continues to try to give Dawn her space to figure things out. Win passes away. When the book ends, Dawn has been home for a week, and Meret asks Dawn what she plans to do, both in terms of whether she'll return to Egypt and who she'll choose. The book cuts off as Dawn opens her mouth to answer.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.