The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd 

Published April 21st 2020 by Viking

4.5 Stars: 

Being a Christian, I was not sure what to expect when reading this book. I will say that I was quite pleased with it and how Sue Monk Kidd delivered this story. Ana is a rebellious and ambitious young woman who wants to read and write, definitely an early feminist. She is smart, curious and stubborn. She does not want to get married and tries to trick her parents into thinking she is not yet a woman. When her parents betroth her to and older widower, she is not pleased, but knows she has to comply. When he dies during their betrothal, she is still considered a widow and branded a harlot for having relations before she is married, even though that did not happen. Her father believes he will not be able to make a match for her, so he agrees that she will become Herod’s concubine. She runs from his home and while the people in the market are preparing to stone her, Jesus steps in and rescues her and also offers to be her betrothed.

I do not want to give away the rest of this story, but I will tell you that many of the events that are well-known in the bible are in this story, but they have been tweaked a bit. This is not the story of Jesus, but the story of Ana. A strong, smart, loyal, caring, loving woman who just wants to follow her dreams and be with the husband that she loves. The setting is from Jerusalem to Egypt and places in between. We do learn some about Jesus’ family through his marriage to Ana while they all lived together in the family compound as well as some of his ministry, but again, the focus is on Ana. A lot of the story takes place when Jesus is teaching and travelling and Ana is elsewhere. The life of women during this time is not easy. They are treated as chattel in many cases, they are to be subservient to their fathers and/or brothers and husbands, and are not allowed to own property. They are not supposed to learn to read and write and are expected to do “women’s work” which is very laborious at times.

Ana and her aunt are the main characters in this story and I felt for them. They were very well developed characters and I loved the relationship they had with each other. This is not a theological story, although there is some in the story. There are some political events, and some historical details that are changed a bit in the timeline, but for the most part it is relatively historically accurate. I very much enjoyed this story, even though it was slow moving at times. I am not sure who I would recommend this one to. Definitely if you enjoy historical fiction, especially dealing with women’s issues, you will enjoy this one. Please be sure to read the author’s notes at the end to find out more about how this story came to be. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book upon request. The rating, ideas and opinions shared are my own.

About the Book: Raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris with ties to the ruler of Galilee, Ana 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.