Title/Author: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
In a nutshell (Publisher):
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.
My verdict: This was so good I tried really hard to go slow and savor it, but the story kept me turning the pages!
This is the reimagining of the New Testament. Jesus was married. His wife’s name was Ana. And this was her story.
Ana, at age 14, was forced to marry one of her father’s acquaintances, Nathaniel. When that fell through, she was forced to marry the tetrarch, Heron Antipas, this time, as a concubine. Not having a happy childhood, Ana always turned to her passion for writing for solace.
She found love when she first met Jesus, and it was him whom she chose to marry even though it infuriated her parents, but by then they had no choice but to accept.
She moved to Nazareth with Jesus and lived with his family. There, she started a new life, one that she wasn’t accustomed to. She felt lonely when Jesus was away for work, and longed to travel with him. She finally got her chance when Jesus asked her to go with him to meet John the Immerser. With John the Immerser, Jesus found his purpose and true calling. He told Ana of his intentions to follow him and she was devastated because no women were allowed to be his disciples.
At around the same time, her life was in danger when Antipas discovered what she did. Fearful for her life, she fled to Alexandria with her aunt, Yaltha, with also the intention of finding Chaya, Yaltha’s long lost daughter. Ana begged her brother, Judas, to inform her when it was safe for her to return to Nazareth. Thus, a new life began for her in Alexandria, one that was filled with hope and purpose, although not without fear too.
There was so much to love in ‘The Book of Longings’ – the characters, the plot, the settings, and the amount of research that went into it.
I loved Ana. What a character. Bold, outspoken, passionate, impulsive, oftentimes prideful and rebellious. She was not afraid to stand up for herself, she escaped from being Antipas’s concubine and was almost stoned to death. She chose whom she wanted to marry; she suffered and endured the loss of her baby; she risked her life in trying to save Phasaelis, whom she treasured as a friend; she spoke up for Tabitha and fought for her; she continued to write even when it wasn’t encouraged by her family and Jesus’s who said ‘the only women who write were sinners and necromancers’. When the whole world seemed to be against her, she stood up and she fought back, again and again.
Many other characters stood out as well, especially the women. Yaltha, her aunt who loved her like her own; Tabitha, her friend who gave her a reason to smile when she was forced to marry Nathaniel, her father’s acquaintance; Phasaelis, Antipas’s wife, who, just like her, was forced to marry and they identified themselves in each other; even her servant, Lavi, whom she later she called ‘brother’, and of course, Jesus. I thought Kidd totally captured the essence of his character perfectly.
And the storytelling was amazing. Kidd made everything, everywhere and everyone leap off the pages – from Ana escaping marriage to falling in love, from the smells and hustle and bustle of the marketplace to the glorious library of Alexandria. And wow, the Therepeutae. Didn’t know and haven’t heard about them until now. It was a religious sect, a community which led a contemplative life and devoted themselves to fasting, praying and studying the scripture. And do I want to visit the library of Alexandria, and feast my eyes on the books while watching the librarians climb up and down the ladders retrieving books for the scholars.
Would I recommend this? If you enjoy what-if, reimagined stories and historical fiction, then yes! Also, read the Author’s Note. It’s amazing to learn how much research had gone into this to make it such an immersive read.
An imaginative, absorbing and inspiring tale of courage, hope, love and longings with compelling characters. This book is one that will stay with me for a long while.Tweet
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Does the premise intrigue you? Have you read the other books by this author? Please share with me your thoughts!
Till then, HAPPY READING & STAY SAFE & WELL!