The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Reviewed by Sam!
What I drank prior: It was one of my best friend’s birthday today and I had to celebrate it on Zoom.It makes me super sad, but selfishly super happy because I don’t have to figure out how I’m going to get home. I’ve had two shots and 3 tall poy 8% ciders. (I know I don’t say this a lot but I have always confused my Ps and Bs, typing or writing by hand… dunno what that means but its something I have dealt with my whole damn life.) Anyway, I am drunk.
“I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus.” So begins the new novel from the number one New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings, an extraordinary story set in the first century about a woman who finds her voice and her destiny in a time of great despair and great hope.
In her fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, a relentless seeker with a brilliant, curious mind and a daring spirit. She yearns for a pursuit worthy of her life, but finds no outlet for her considerable talents. Defying the expectations placed on women, she engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes secret narratives about neglected and silenced women. When she meets the eighteen-year-old Jesus, each is drawn to and enriched by the other’s spiritual and philosophical ideas. He becomes a floodgate for her intellect, but also the awakener of her heart.
Their marriage unfolds with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, James and Simon, and their mother, Mary. Here, Ana’s pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to the Roman occupation of Israel, partially led by her charismatic adopted brother, Judas. She is sustained by her indomitable aunt Yaltha, who is searching for her long-lost daughter, as well as by other women, including her friend Tabitha, who is sold into slavery after she was raped, and Phasaelis, the shrewd wife of Herod Antipas. Ana’s impetuous streak occasionally invites danger. When one such foray forces her to flee Nazareth for her safety shortly before Jesus’s public ministry begins, she makes her way with Yaltha to Alexandria, where she eventually finds refuge and purpose in unexpected surroundings.
Grounded in meticulous historical research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus’s life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring 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.
Drunk Overview: This is the fictional interpretation of Jesus’s wife. According to lore/the bible, Jesus didn’t have a wife. But Sue Monk Kidd wanted to play with the idea. Insert our main character, Ana, a noble woman who needs to marry well in order to save her family. Her dad wants to marry her to this super old dude, the… duke? i guess?… is infatuated, and her best friend accuses someone of rape but is instead marked a harlot.She is also learned. She knows how to read and write, which is unheard of for women. She always knew what she wanted and that was the space to write her own story and the stories of others around her. Yet… she has a vagina and dudes didn’t like vaginas having power in that day. Here comes Jesus. Someone who immediately enraptures her, and him her.
Spoiler-free Thoughts: Look folsk, I am not one for historical fiction at its very core, but i am also not religious in any sense of the word. I know the stories, I went to church and was baptised and have read the bible cover to cover but even in my youth i never felt like it was real… until this story. The way that Sue tells the story I felt like it could be made real for me for the first time.
Characters: Ana is such a powerful character. She knows what she wants but she also know “her place” traditionally.Jesus never asks her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. He gives her agency to do as she wishes which, in my opinion, is the epitome of what Christ is intended to be.
I know I know… what do I know of Christ when I don’t believe he is the messiah? I may not believe in a higher power but I do believe that there are humans that have profound influence on this world and that Jesus of Nazarath was one of them. His teachings on equality were amazing… BUT I am diverting from the story.
THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT RELIGION. THIS IS NOT AN EASTER STORY. THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE BIBLE. THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT JESUS. Not even a little bit.
This story is about Ana and her journey in a world where women are afforded no respect or agency and her longing for it. I love Ana, and her fire. I love her aunt and her more intense fire. Her sister and brothers in law (which Jesus had, btw if you didnt know). Each part of Ana’s story only adds to Ana and her life. I just… idk how else to describe it but I feel so incredibly bound to this fictional woman. She (for all we know) didn’t exist and yet, I can only hope that she did…
Plot: I knew the plot. I knew where Jesus was going to go and his ultimate fate to be crucified. And yet (and I promise you can ask Ginny) I was sobbing by the end. Not for Jesus, but for Ana. The plot was not about Jesus, but about Ana and her life in this time of history. I feel like I appreciated that best because historical fiction should have the same major milestones (or as The Doctor says, fixed point in time) that orient us to what’s going on, but it was also new. It wasn’t about Jesus’s life and his war with Pilot. It was about a woman in a time where women had no agency and what it would look like to have a man pave the way for a woman to do what she felt like she ought. I want to be super clear about this: Jesus didn’t allow for Ana do to what she wanted… Jesus actively removed barriers to Ana’s way. Ana had the strength to both identify what she wanted but also ask for it. Something super unheard of. I was kept on my seat knowing exactly where the story was heading, but not how Ana gets there and it was great.
Writing Style: I will read anything this woman puts out for the rest of my life and its not even in my genre prederences. This woman is amzing. You have to read it. I challenge anyone looking to shake things up but also to be intellectually stimulated to pick it up. Seriously, idk how much more I cna gush… This book felt like a hug. It was raw and hits really hard to home in some places, I really fuckign needed it. Again, want to be clear, I AM NOT RELIGIOUS. But I still loved the crap out of this book.
What to pair it with: What do you pair a religious history text with. I feel like wine is too easy. It feels super comforting in a way which is odd cause I am not religious… let’s go with a hot toddie…
Rating: 5/5 shots
COMMENT DOWN BELOW: Has anyone ever read anything by her before? Should I go back and read her other stories?
Until next time, we remain forever drunkenly yours,