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All in the Family

Just before she wrote the best-selling novel The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann, took their first real holiday together. Since then, they've explored the streets of Paris, laughed until they cried at a café in Athens, and been mistaken for sisters along the way. In a new book, they share their best tales from the road.

Aside from a quick trip to California when her daughter was 12, Sue had never traveled alone with Ann. So in 1998, just before her 50th birthday, the author cooked up a plan: As a present to herself and to Ann, who at 22 had just finished college, she'd arrange a mother-daughter tour of Greece.

The trip couldn't have been more well-timed. Ann had just received a rejection letter from graduate school, and her future was up in the air. Meanwhile, Sue was at a creative impasse with her writing, and with her daughter reaching adulthood, she wanted to maximize their time together. Like most mothers and daughters at some point, this South Carolina duo had been growing apart.

They chose Greece because Ann had fallen in love with the country on a study tour abroad and Sue wanted them to experience it together. So the women flew to Athens and explored everything from the Acropolis to the port cities of the Greek isles to the deserted Sanctuary of Demeter in Elefsina.

Early in the trip, on a cruise ship near Patmos, Ann revealed the nagging self-doubt she'd been feeling since receiving the rejection letter and the deep depression she was battling. This heart-to-heart marked the start of a new phase in the relationship, when mother and daughter became friends.

"Traveling together in very intimate situations, where the places themselves open you up to new ideas and feelings, intensifies the whole experience," Sue says. "It was like a hothouse. It really sped up the growth of our relationship."

That new bond grew stronger still on the four trips they took together over the next three years, including two holidays in France and a return visit to Greece. Ann and Sue filled the pages of their journals with discoveries about the destinations—and each other.

Back at home, Ann began writing a travelogue but realized it just wouldn't work to do it on her own. "It felt like I was telling half the story," she says. "We'd done these trips together, and that was a special thing. There was a larger story there." That story is now told in chapters that alternate between Sue's and Ann's voices.

Their memoir, Traveling with Pomegranates, isn't the only souvenir from those journeys that the women hold dear. They brought back matching necklaces with red-glass pendants that stand in for pomegranates, representing the powerful connection between the goddess Demeter and her lost daughter, Persephone, in Greek mythology. "Going to the root of that mother-daughter tale was important for us. We knew it had a kind of guiding wisdom," Sue says. "We found our way into the myth and have metaphorically lived out the same story."

1999 Spiritual sightseeing was the backbone of the women's first trip to France, but in Paris they also managed to find time for a little retail therapy. One favorite stop: the now-closed Samaritaine department store.

2000 Ann's favorite spots from her college tour of Athens—like the terrace of the Electra Palace Hotel, which looks out to the Acropolis—were at the top of the pair's must-see list. "The city's so rich in history and art," she says. "It holds a special place in my heart."

2001 Ann and Sue returned to France with Sue's mother, Leah. "She was 78, and we could hardly keep up with her," Sue says. "After visiting the Louvre, Ann and I were museumed out. We wanted to go back to the hotel to take a nap, and she wouldn't stop teasing us."

Traveling with Pomegranates hits stores on September 8 (Viking, $26).

 
Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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