Sue Monk Kidd is an author that has lived in my to-read pile since The Secret Life of Bees came out in 2002. Late one night, unable to sleep, I found The Book of Longings, Kidd’s latest novel, available online through OverDrive. I decided to give it a go.
Set in the first century, The Book of Longings tells the story of a young woman named Ana who desires to find her voice and lead her own destiny. Ana was raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris. Her father worked very closely with the ruler in Galilee, a position that benefited the family immensely, yet also put the family in danger. Ana has always been rebellious and ambitious, wanting to spend her days writing the stories of women who have been silenced, neglected, and castigated for years. Her parents have other ideas of how she should spend her time.
In the market one day, Ana runs into Jesus, an eighteen-year-old with rich philosophical and spiritual ideas. Drawn to his presence, Ana manufactures ways to bump into him again, leading to hours long conversations where the two exchange intellectual ideas that blossom into love. Soon married, Ana and Jesus settle into life in Nazareth with Jesus’ extended family: his mother, Mary, his brothers, James and Simon, and their respective families. While living there, Ana’s longings to be her own understood woman intensifies while Jesus toils to provide for the family. Consistently defying the expectations society places on women, Ana isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her rebellious and impetuous streak leads Ana and her family into danger.
Bolstered by the support of her aunt, Yaltha, her childhood friend, Tabitha, and an older friend, Phasaelis, Ana speaks her mind consistently. When one outburst puts her in even more danger, Ana and Yaltha are forced to flee Nazareth and head to Alexandria. Leaving Jesus behind right as he begins his public ministry, Ana gains comfort with the knowledge that her adopted brother, Judas, will send a note to her when it is safe for her to return. Finding refuge in an unexpected place, Ana and Yaltha spend their days waiting for word from Judas so they can reunite with Jesus and his disciples.
The story of Ana is one of a woman who longs to be able to pursue the passion boiling inside of her, while society continuously shuts her down. Her story is one of many, yet the focus on Ana allows readers to learn more about the women behind the scenes during this time. Sue Monk Kidd has woven a very well researched tale of Jesus’ life told from the perspective of the women that surround him.
This book is also available in the following formats: