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The Book of Two Ways

By Jodi Picoult



The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult, a exploration of Egyptology, death and two possible futures.

Synopsis

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 Summary

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
See the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of The Book of Two Ways
Quick 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 Dawn 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.

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Book Review

Jodi Picoult’s The Book of Two Ways drew me in with its premise involving Egyptology, long-lost love and multiple timelines. It’s one of those books that I knew right off the bat that I was a good reader for.

In the story, the main character, Dawn, navigates two possible timelines for herself. There’s one where she goes home and works on her marriage and another where she’s reunited with the career as an Egyptologist she gave up as well as a former flame she once said good-bye to.

Picoult works in a lot of information from a variety of disciplines — from art to science to history — with a focus on Egyptology. There’s a strong academic bent to this book, as if parts of a humanities course was written up into a love story, with a little physics mixed in.

The Book of Two Ways that the book is named after, as Picoult explains, was an Ancient Egyptian funerary text that provided a map to the path that one takes in the afterlife. There are two roads that one can take, one by land and the other a water route. Picoult uses this to frame her story, one where Dawn is contemplating the two paths her life could have taken.

The mixing of heavily academic topics works well at times, like when Dawn’s enemies-to-lovers love interest compares her to Hathor/Sakhmet, an Egyptian goddess that can change forms from a vicious lioness (Sakhmet) to a peaceful goddess of love (Hathor).

But occasionally the lengthy lectures feel quite divorced from the story. Picoult works hard to ties these lengthy discussions into her narrative, but sometimes the connection to the plot gets quite tenuous and it’s not clear what value is supposed to be derived separate from the history or physics lesson that’s being forced on you.

It makes the book feels sluggish at times. I think it’s ultimately worth sticking it out, but I did think the book was weakest when it got too lost in these lectures.

The Book of Two Ways moves along unhurriedly, but this isn’t really a plot-driven novel. If you go into it expecting to read at a leisurely pace, I don’t think you’ll be bothered by it. Instead, it’s a rumination on the choices we make, on our mortality, on the things we leave behind and on the regrets we’re left with. Not all of the book comes together by the end, but the parts that do are thought-provoking and well worth the journey.

Read it or Skip it?

I would recommend this more for someone who is a more thoughtful reader or someone with a strong interest in Egyptology.

I also think this could be a good book for book clubs, since it brings up some intriguing questions to mull over. Dawn is faced with a number of difficult decisions both in her past and for the future, and they’re the type of decisions that make you reflect on your own life and what you might’ve done in that situation.

Because of the occasionally lost-in-the-weeds-type lectures in the book, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but I did ultimately enjoy this novel.

The Book of Two Ways Audiobook Review

I really wanted to like this audiobook. I like the narrator’s voice and prefer narrators that act with a light touch, which I think this narrator did will. But oh my goodness her British accent was really questionable.

One of the main characters, Wyatt, is British and the accent in the audiobook is difficult to take seriously. The other parts are quite good though.

You can listen to a sample of the narration here, though there isn’t any of the British accent in the clip.

The Book of Two Ways, Explained!

Spoilers start here, so don’t continue reading if you haven’t read the book!

What’s going on with the timeline in the Book of Two Ways?

Basically, as you near the end of the book, it’s revealed that the timeline that was originally implied is incorrect. When you start the book, it’s implied that Dawn leaves home after a fight with Brian, that she gets on a plane which crashes, she survives and then the timelines branch off into one where she goes to Boston and another where she goes to Egypt.

However, near the end, we learn that things are told a bit out of order. Instead, Dawn leaves home after a fight with Brian, but essentially comes right back. The stuff in Boston plays out (working on the marriage, working with Win), culminating in the discovery that Brian is not Meret’s father. Dawn then leaves for London to deliver the letter to Thane on behalf of Win (though she decides against it at the last minute). From London, she impulsively gets on a flight to Egypt, and then all the Egypt stuff plays out (finding the burial chamber, sleeping with Wyatt), and weeks later Dawn finally gets around to telling Wyatt the truth about Meret, which she has recently discovered.

After that revelation, Wyatt asks to meet Meret. Then, Dawn and Wyatt both get on the plane going from Cairo to Boston and that is the plane that crashes. They both survive. Dawn seems fine initially, but when she goes to book her flight home, she ends up collapsing (due to pressure in her brain), and she ends up back in the hospital. After surgery, Brian meets her in the hospital (along with Wyatt).

So, did Dawn know about Meret’s paternity?

Nope. This part is a little confusing since this happens just before the book clarifies what’s going on with the timelines (that they are not concurrent alternate realities, but rather that the Boston events happen directly before the Egypt events).

But basically, Dawn finds out about Meret’s paternity in Boston because of the DNA test. She’s surprised to discover that Meret is 98% British and Irish. When she was pregnant, she had been in a bit of a haze due to her mother’s death, so she didn’t really think too hard about her morning sickness and didn’t consider that it might be Wyatt’s when she and Brian were sleeping together and she’d realized she was pregnant.

After the DNA reveal, Dawn goes to London and from there to Egypt. Everything happens with her reuniting with Wyatt and whatnot and it’s not until a few weeks later that she tells Wyatt the truth about one of the main reasons she is there — to tell him about Meret.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does The Book of Two Ways play into the theme and plot of the book? Why do you think Picoult uses this to frame this book?
  2. How does Brian’s interest in quantum physics play into the theme and plot of the book? How does it correlate with the ideas in the Book of Two Ways? Do you think that bringing in this element of science enhanced or contributed to how you thought about the story, and if so how?
  3. How would you describe Dawn’s relationship with Meret, and why do you think Dawn struggles with it so much? Why is Meret’s relationship with Brian comparatively easier?
  4. What do you think of Dawn and her actions both in the past the present? Did you feel sympathetic towards her or were there instances where you disagreed with what she did or the decisions she made?
  5. Why do you think it mattered so much to Dawn that Wyatt eventually came to accept her theory about how the positioning of texts within the coffin was deliberate and important? Do you think it mattered more to her personally or professionally?
  6. What did you think of Wyatt and Brian? Which character did you prefer as a love interest for Dawn and which character did you prefer as a husband for Dawn?
  7. Throughout the Book of Two Ways, Picoult includes a lot of information and facts from a variety of fields. Which of these pieces of information stuck out to you or stayed with you while you were reading it and why? In what ways did these pieces of information add to your appreciation of the book?
  8. Why do you think Picoult structures the story the way she did, and what do you think the point was she was trying to make? What does this say to you about fate or alternate realities?
  9. Do you think Dawn behaved selfishly? What do you think about her argument that it’s somehow considered more acceptable for men to go on jaunts of self-discovery and to do things for themselves than women?
  10. How do you think this story ends? Where does Dawn end up and who does she end up with?
  11. Were you satisfied with how the story ends?

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of The Book of Two Ways


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