Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Fiction Review: The Book of Longings

This is a familiar story for me with my book groups: my neighborhood book group chose a book I was really not interested in, I read it reluctantly ... and ended up loving it! Such is the magic of book groups in introducing you to books you never would have picked up on your own. The book this time? The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. Now, I loved her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees (as did everyone else I know), but this novel, about the fictional wife of Jesus (yes, that Jesus), just didn't interest me. I am happy to have been proven wrong! I loved this female-centric historical novel set in the first century.

The novel focuses on a young woman named Ana, beginning in 16 CE in a town called Sepphoris, just outside of Galilee. Ana is just 14 years old, but she is passionate and driven. Although girls are not typically educated, she begged her wealthy father to allow her to learn to read and write, and he obligingly hired tutors for her. He didn't realize, though, that writing would become a passion and a life goal for her. Ana writes in secret, documenting the stories of women in the Bible and in real life, since women's stories are rarely told. All of her plans come to an abrupt halt when her father announces she is betrothed to an older widower who has his own children ... and a reputation for cruelty. The marriage will help her father politically, but Ana is crushed and terrified. About this time, she meets Jesus, who is a few years older than her, in the marketplace. In fact, he saves her life. The two meet again and get to know each other and realize they are kindred souls, Anna driven by her passion to write, share the stories of women, and have a voice, and Jesus driven by an equal passion to serve God and do good in the world. Ana's life follows an unpredictable, often rocky, path, leading her to Nazareth with Jesus, and later, to Egypt. Through it all, she is accompanied by her kind and faithful aunt, Yaltha, as Ana longs to bring her dreams to fruition.

Ana's story is a rich and winding one, filled with passions and peril. Though, yes, Jesus is a main character here, the focus of this novel is on Ana and the other women, including Jesus' mother, Mary. One of my concerns was the Biblical setting of the novel. I went to church sometimes as a child but really am not involved in organized religion now and am far from a Biblical scholar! But that was OK. The Book of Longings is basically historical fiction set in the first century, and as with all historical fiction, it is based on some known facts, with a fictional story built around those. Interestingly, our book group included a good mix of people, from the very religious, who know the Bible extremely well, to those like me, who can't always answer the Bible questions on Jeopardy! Yet, almost all of us loved this novel. The author explains in a note at the end that the Bible really doesn't say anything about what happens in Jesus's life from the age of about 12 until the crucifixion, when he's in his thirties, so her intent was to fill in those blanks with this fictional story. Though, again, the focus is really on Ana and how all of that affects her life. All of my book group agreed that it is a fascinating, compelling, and unique historical novel; it led to some great discussions about the role of women through the ages.

416 pages, Viking

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is a scene with Ana and her beloved aunt, Yaltha, from the beginning of the book.


You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


Or you can order The Book of Longings from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder how this compares to The Red Tent, which I loved. I liked that it centered on the women of the time and, since I am not religious, it wasn't a "religious" book.