This account of growing up with a mentally ill mother “belongs on a shelf of classic memoirs, alongside The Liars’ Club and Angela’s Ashes” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).
As an NPR correspondent, Jacki Lyden visited some dangerous war zones—but her childhood was a war zone of a different kind.
Lyden’s mother suffered from what is now called bipolar disorder or manic depression. But in a small Wisconsin town in the sixties and seventies she was simply “crazy.” In her delusions, Lyden’s mother was a woman of power: Marie Antoinette or the Queen of Sheba. But in reality, she had married the nefarious local doctor, who drugged her to keep her moods in check and terrorized the children to keep them quiet. Holding their lives together was Lyden’s hardscrabble Irish grandmother, a woman who had her first child at the age of fourteen and lost her husband in a barroom brawl.
In this memoir, Lyden vividly captures the seductive energy of her mother’s delusions and the effect they had on her own life. She paints a portrait of three remarkable women—mother, daughter, and grandmother—revealing their obstinate devotion to one another against all odds, and their scrappy genius for survival.
“What distinguishes Daughter of the Queen of Sheba
from any other book about dysfunctional parents . . . and turns this exotic memoir into compelling literature is the dreamy poetry of Lyden’s prose. In graceful imagery as original (and occasionally as highly wrought) as her mother’s costumes, Lyden—a senior correspondent for National Public Radio—loops and loops again around the central fact of her mother’s manic depression and how that illness shaped Lyden’s life growing up with two younger sisters, a scrappy Irish grandmother (whose memory she holds like ‘a cotton rag around a cut’), a father who left, and a hated stepfather.” —Entertainment Weekly