Occasionally a book comes along that leaves you breathless… with meaning, with possibility, with swirling thoughts. Having just read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings in less than 24 hours, I can say it easily fits this category for me.
First, the publisher’s description of this title:
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 admit I wasn’t sure what to expect… I’ve enjoyed Kidd’s work before, and it’s always thought provoking, and sometimes controversial. I believe a primary goal here wasn’t to shock anyone (as she says, the subject of whether Jesus was married has been a topic of some debate over the centuries), but rather to portray the life of women in those times and to give them a voice in the character of Ana.
You see, Ana never quite fit in. She wanted to read and write and explore in a time when women weren’t encouraged to do such things. Reading this book, one easily feels her frustration at not being heard or considered. An underlying theme in this title is the question of a woman’s voice, and how it was included, or not, in history… particularly in the history of Christianity.
I’d like to note that while Christians believe Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine, the author opted to detail only His humanity. There are references to the Messiah and to Jesus having a special purpose, but neither miracles nor the resurrection are accounted for here. For reasons depicted in her notes, the author made the conscious choice to focus on only the human side of Jesus.
Kidd weaves the story of Ana’s longings with her daily life. There are goats to be milked, food to be prepared, and other tasks that need doing. While Ana wrestles with her need to express her voice and do what she feels she was born to do, she must also attend to the necessary.
One scene details Ana packing for a journey with Jesus. She was adding food, but also her remaining valuables (including an ornamental brass comb) with which to barter. Jesus had told her to “consider the lilies” and that God would provide. Her response?
He would trust God. I would carry a comb.
Isn’t that what we do? We predict. We plan. We prepare.
This was a timely read for me… I’m in a stage of life where I’m wrestling with my own voice and longings, and I’m sure many women can relate. I enjoyed the fictional character of Ana. One of her last declarations was a prayer that ended with these words:
When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.
May we all discover our unique voice and have the courage to sound it far and wide.
This is easily a 5 star read for me… I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, stories with strong women, and voices that may have been muffled throughout time. You can find The Book of Longings through these links:
Happy reading, friends!
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