Jodi Picoult’s “The Book of Two Ways,” begins with one of the greatest fears shared by travelers: “Will my plane fall out of the sky?” During the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like we are mid-flight facing an emergency landing. The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for all of us to examine our lives just as Dawn McDowell Edelstein, the main character does in Picoult’s book. While Dawn wonders if these are her last moments before dying, she is aware that her first thoughts are not of her husband, her daughter, or her dead mother but of Wyatt Armstrong, a man who hasn’t been part of her life for 15 years. Wyatt represents the life that she left behind in Egypt along with her dissertation about the first known map of the afterlife.

She wonders what if? 

During COVID-19, many are wondering about the businesses that no longer exist, the jobs that have been eliminated, the friends and family members who have perished, and the dreadful illness that might force us into isolation or worse.

If you were one of 36 people to walk away from a plane crash, what would you do next? While many families are reeling from losses from the current pandemic, some are wondering will we move forward in the same direction we’ve been traveling or will it be time to pivot and rekindle a long-forgotten desire or create a new path.

Dawn has questions: “Why am I alive when others aren’t? Why did I book this particular flight? What if I’d been detained checking in and had missed it? What if I’d made any of a thousand other choices that would have led me away from this crash?

In her career as a death doula, Dawn often asks her clients, “What’s left unfinished? What is it that you haven’t done yet?” When the airline offers Dawn a flight home to Boston or anywhere she needs to go in the world, she chooses to return to Egypt. After 15 years she returns to the dig house and in some ways, it’s like she’s only been gone for a moment as if one could simply rewind and start again. Dawn tells Wyatt: “I want to work here. I want to finish what I started.” If you could turn back the clock, what would you try again? 

This story unravels in alternating chapters of Land/Egypt and Water/Boston with her two lives, two men and her life story unfolding for us. One of my favorite things about reading this book during a time when we are not allowed to travel was feeling like I was visiting the tombs of Osiris and the other gods of ancient Egypt. When Jody Picoult vividly describes the sand in Dawn’s hair and her sandwich along with the details of the murals and the daily life on an archaeological site, I felt like I was there too.

As a general contractor of death, Dawn helps her clients navigate the end of their lives. As a graduate student, she was working to understand the Egyptian belief of something quite similar about preparing for the end of life and the journey to a great afterlife.

After a call that changed her life, Dawn was uncertain about how to complete her Ph.D. Like Dawn, many of us are unsure about a path forward right now and this book is the perfect antidote for our current challenges.

When Dawn first meets Brian at the hospice where her mother and his grandmother are both dying, she contemplates how she is an Egyptologist who’s been ripped out of Egypt. Many times reading this book, I was struck that while Dawn is experiencing parallel lives; the COVID-19 Pandemic has forced many to consider new pathways as ones we assumed would continue were abruptly removed from opportunity.

In both of Dawn’s timelines, there are crossroads, challenges, and unforeseen twists. As I read, I reflected on my own life after various crossroads: I overcame the trauma of losing my job abruptly after 9/11 after my employer filed for bankruptcy; I survived the devastation of the end of my marriage and the loss of promises unfulfilled, and I still had my life. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, I wonder which people and businesses will survive this deadly virus.

Following Dawn’s journey was exactly the escape I needed; it helped me think about my own choices as hers unfurled. At one point Wyatt says to Dawn, “What’s going on? People do not get to rewind their lives, to rewrite the outcome. We make our beds and we lie in them.” But maybe we have more power than we think!

Jodi Picoult in Egypt

I loved it when she described how “Ancient Egyptians believed that the first and most necessary ingredient in the universe was chaos. It could sweep you away, but it was also the place from which all things start anew.” Perhaps this current state of our world will lead us to something brand new. Many new businesses are born when entrepreneurs pivot and solve a problem. How will you pivot?

Picoult’s depth of knowledge including Dawn’s random cocktail party fact that: “When the mummy of Ramesses II was sent to France in the 1970s, he got his own passport, and the occupation was listed as King/Deceased” drew me in and made me imagine it as a major motion picture. I cannot wait to see this book on the big screen with the vast expanse of sand, the heat of the day at the dig, dancing in the moonlight, and the choices we make and live with.

The way the storylines reach across into each other is evidence this author’s story architecture is as intentional and complicated as the ancient Egyptian tombs she describes. Each part is carefully crafted and reflects across its sliding door. When we discover that Brian knew about Wyatt’s letters and when Dawn leaves for Amsterdam on Win’s errand with her canvas, the reader is let in on how quantum mechanics begins to fold upon itself and I realized I was reading more slowly so that this magnificent story would not end. Just as the dawn rises each day, I decided I would simply finish the book and begin it again so it would not end for me.

Dawn is asked by her client, Win: “Did you ever wonder who you would have been if you hadn’t become who you are?” This quote sums up the book and the different pathways the soul could take after death in Egypt and during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Observing the colorful tapestry of Dawn’s life-if you pull one thread and follow it through all of these intricate characters, you find a pattern, a map, or a life. Dawn explained that: “Maps don’t have to be literal. They might be drawn to depict the real world, to dream of fictional space, or to inspire a symbolic one.” A central question of this book is what does it mean to live a good life? What map will you choose? Do you have a North Star or compass to guide you? It might be love, a person, or a passion. “What if that one decision set off a whole chain of other forks in the path?” If you could pick self-discovery and reinvention, what new direction would you take?

Get your copy of Jodi Picoult’s The Book of Two Ways starting Sept 22, 2020

More about books by Jodi Picoult in my other articles:


  • Lisa Niver

    Lisa Niver is a travel journalist and on-camera host who has explored 101 countries. Find her on KTLA TV or her We Said Go Travel videos with over 1.3 million views

    We Said Go Travel

    Lisa Ellen Niver, M.A. Education, is a science teacher and is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she worked on cruise ships for seven years and backpacked for three years in Asia. You can find her talking travel at KTLA TV and in her We Said Go Travel videos with over 1.3 million views on her YouTube channel. As a journalist, Niver has interviewed an Olympic swimmer and numerous bestselling authors and has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. She is the founder of We Said Go Travel which is read in 235 countries and was named #3 on Rise Global’s top 1,000 Travel Blogs. She was named both a Top 10 Travel Influencer and a Top 50 Female Influencer for 2021 by Afluencer and is the Social Media Manager for the Los Angeles Press Club.  She has been nominated for the inaugural Forbes 50 over 50/Know Your Value list due out in Summer 2021. She has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best and has more than 150,000 followers across social media. Niver is a judge for the Gracies Awards for the Alliance of Women in Media and has also run 15 travel competitions publishing over 2,500 writers and photographers from 75 countries on We Said Go Travel. 

    For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded two Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards. From 2017 to 2021 in the Southern California Journalism Awards and National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards, she has won four times for her broadcast television segments, print and digital articles. Niver won in 2021 as Book Critic and in 2019 for one of her KTLA TV segments NAEJ (National Arts and Entertainment Journalism) award. Niver won an award for her print magazine article for Hemispheres Magazine for United Airlines in the 2020 Southern California Journalism Awards and a 2017 Southern California Journalism Award for her print story for the Jewish Journal.

    Niver has written for National Geographic, USA Today 10best, TODAY, Teen Vogue, POPSUGAR, Ms. Magazine, Luxury Magazine, Smithsonian, Sierra Club, Saturday Evening Post, AARP, American Airways, Delta Sky, En Route (Air Canada), Hemispheres, Jewish Journal, Myanmar Times, Robb Report, Scuba Diver Life, Ski Utah, Trivago, Undomesticated, Wharton Magazine and Yahoo. She is writing a book, “Brave(ish): It's All About Perspective 50 Adventures Before 50,” about her most recent travels and insights. When she's not SCUBA diving or in her art studio making ceramics, she's helping people find their next dream trip.