Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Pages:  432
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: April 21, 2020
Publisher: Viking
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Invention of Wings
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "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."
Ana isn't like other girls in Galilee. She was raised by a wealthy family, but she doesn't want the life that is expected of her.  She not only knows how to read and write, but she is also a curious person by nature and challenges authority.  This, obviously, is a problem for the time period as well as not the norm.  When she finds out her parents have arranged a marriage for her to a man who is horrid, she knows she must not let this happen.  Then she meets Jesus in a market and she can't stop thinking about him. Thankfully, he helps her escape her dreadful fate.  Once they marry, she leaves her life and family behind to live with Jesus, his brothers, and his mother in Nazareth.  So much happens while at Nazareth.  Jesus realizes his calling, then there's the resistance against the Romans, the troubles of Ana's brother Judas, and her Ana's aunt's personal quest.  There's dangers, betrayal, love, spirituality and so much more, but what makes The Book of Longings so very special is the feminine take on Christianity and the question that has lurked in many minds: what if Jesus had a wife?  The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is a phenomenally smart and thought provoking historical read that will make a lasting impression.

Ana is the type of character I love in The Book of Longings. She is smart, determined, rebellious, and challenges authority. She wants more for her life and has a strong desire to share her story through writing.  This obviously leads her to some unfortunate situations.  I also love that she is determined to read and write despite the limitations on women during the time period.  Her goal of recording women's stories is another aspect of the novel that I loved and I enjoyed how Kidd weaved that piece throughout Ana's story.  Her journey throughout the novel is so fantastic; by the end of the story, I felt like I was saying goodbye to a longtime friend.

I must say I was worried about how Kidd would portray Jesus in The Book of Longings as well as some other famous people from the Bible. I mean can you blame me? This is quite the task. However, Kidd handled it so well.  She humanized Jesus, Mary, and his disciples.  She brought to life the stories from the Bible and brought a perspective to it that I really appreciated.  Instead of making Jesus some sort of superhero, he was portrayed as a person who had family, friends, a wife, a job, etc.  I think she handled it brilliantly. Even though we know how things end for Jesus, it was still interesting to relive it all through Ana's eyes.

I appreciated the feminist aspect to The Book of Longings the most.  It made me wonder.... what if? I have always questioned whether Jesus had a wife or not despite her being excluded from the Bible.  What would his wife be like? The Book of Longings explores this topic and those that have longed for a feminist take on the Bible will throughly enjoy Kidd's portrayal. But take Jesus's wife out of the equation, readers can also appreciate a woman's story that highlights the many struggles during the time period and her determination for her, as well as others around her, to not be silenced. It brought up so many questions and it was a very thought provoking read. This novel would make for an excellent book club choice as there's so much to discuss.

If you are looking for a smart beach read this summer and one that will transport you to a different time and place as well as inspire you, look no further. The Book of Longings is one of my favorite historical reads of the year.


  1. Quite an interesting alternate history!

    1. Right? I loved it! The Bible definitely needs a feminist perspective---gave me a lot to think about! Thanks for visiting, Angela.


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