The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
“A man’s holy of holies contains God’s laws, but inside a woman’s there are only longings.” *
Young Ana has been raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris; her father, Matthias, is the head scribe to the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas. Her mother, a beauty from a poor family, is cold and calculating. Her adopted brother, Judas, fueled by his hatred of Rome for the loss of his parents, has left home to become part of a revolt to overthrow their power.
Ana is restless and daring, learning to read and write so that she can document the narratives of voiceless women. When she is forced into a betrothal to a local widower, Ana is determined to find a way to make a life on her own terms and to save the many stories she has painstakingly chronicled from being destroyed.
She finds a kindred spirit in a young man named Jesus. They are drawn together through a series of dramatic events that change the course of Ana’s life and the couple marry. They live in a compound in Nazareth with Jesus’s mother and brothers James and Simon.
When Jesus is compelled to follow John the Immerser, Ana’s longings and frustrations intensify. She’s left behind in Nazareth with Jesus’s mother, brothers James and Simon, and her aunt Yaltha until Jesus sends for her.
Ana’s stubborn streak earns her the wrath of Herod and she leaves Nazareth for Alexandria with Yaltha, awaiting news from Judas when it’s safe to return.
Alexandria is both a prison and a haven for Ana and Yaltha as they face past regrets and bravely plan for the future. Ana discovers her purpose and when she receives word that she can return to Jesus’s side, she leaves behind Yaltha who has been reunited with her long-lost daughter.
After two long years, Ana arrives home to find that Judas has betrayed Jesus and must follow her husband to witness his suffering on the cross.
While there will always be a debate over whether Jesus was human or divine, I have always loved the idea that Jesus was a man who inspired divine events. I identify with him better considering him with human feelings and desires. It isn’t too much of a stretch for me to imagine him falling in love and marrying. I love that Sue Monk Kidd took this possibility a step further and gave us the imagined story of the wife of Jesus.
Ana is a memorable character with her longings, defiance, and ambitions. I appreciated that she and Jesus offered each other their unwavering support in the pursuit of destiny. They were each compelled to sacrifice their desires to share and advance their beliefs.
We meet so many familiar characters (Lazarus, Martha, Tabitha to name a few) and I love how they were seamlessly included and enriched this story.
The Book of Longings is a beautiful piece of historical fiction that offers a rarely considered perspective of the life of Jesus, but most importantly it focuses on the story of the bold and passionate Ana. There are so few stories of women from this time period and I appreciate the careful research and respect by Kidd in creating this novel.
Thanks to Viking and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review. The Book of Longings is scheduled for release on April 21, 2020.
*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.