Daughter of the Queen of Sheba

It isn’t strictly required to have a crazy parent to write a good memoir, but in this crowded literary market, it couldn’t hurt. And in her mother, Jacki Lyden has a champ, a star — a character so vivid in her extravagant, intermittent madness that all a daughter would have to do to make a splash, you’d think, is to cite chapter and verse: And then she decided she was Marie Antoinette, and then she disappeared, and then she wrote letters to her imaginary lover. But what distinguishes Daughter of the Queen of Sheba (Houghton Mifflin, $24) from any other book about dysfunctional parents (and the children who love them and sell book proposals about them) 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. ”Who knows when my mother’s touring caravan will cross the border to Well?” Lyden asks. And yet she is also keenly aware that her own fractured personal relationships and vagabond life, traipsing from country to country (often on the trail of wars), are a direct legacy of — as well as an homage to — the mother she forever hungers to know. A-

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba
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