Published by Penguin Setting: Palestine/Egypt
on April 21, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Women, Historical, Ancient, Literary
An extraordinary story set in the first century about a woman who finds her voice and her destiny, from the celebrated number one New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings
In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.
Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.
Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus's life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable account of one woman's bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place and culture devised to silence her. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the height of her powers.
I’ve been a Sue Monk Kidd fan since before she started writing fiction and I’ve loved watching her transformation as a writer. I’ve had The Book of Longings on my iPad for a while. I’m not sure why I didn’t dig into it before now.
Yes, this is the story of the wife of Jesus. But, it isn’t really about him. More than anything this is a story of a woman in the ancient Middle East who is running headlong into the confines that her society has placed on her sex.
â€œThe birth of a daughter is a loss. Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good.â€
Ana has learned to read and write in a world where women of her class can aspire to no more than a good marriage. She is exposed to ideas beyond her narrow world by her aunt who was born in Alexandria. She was cast out of her brother’s house following a scandal and lived for a time in a colony of people who pursued arts and knowledge. This sounds amazing to Ana but she doesn’t think she can ever have that freedom.
We see Ana in her upper class world and then we see her fall from grace that leads to her marrying Jesus, who is a poor man. Her worlds come alive in the details of her life in both of these settings.
“Most men knew nothing of the ways in which women avoided pregnancy. When it came to children, they didnâ€™t much consider the agony of birth and the possibility of death; they thought instead of Godâ€™s mandate to be fruitful and multiply. It seemed to be a command God had devised with men in mind, and it was the only one they were universally good at obeying.”
If you are familiar with the stories of the New Testament, you will see how different details of her life and Jesus’ life could have been twisted around to form many of the Biblical stories. It made me laugh and appreciate what Sue Monk Kidd was doing in crafting this story. I was also incredibly amused by sentences like, “I told my aunt about Jesus” or “I had to find Jesus” or “I talked to Jesus” which were all literal in the story but are now better known as evangelical catchphrases.
If you aren’t well versed in Christian stories you will still be able to appreciate this as an engrossing historical fiction story about the lives of women in different Middle Eastern and Egyptian societies.
â€œWe will teach you about our God and you will teach us about yours, and together weâ€™ll find the God that exists behind them.â€