In 1999, Sue Monk Kidd considered writing a novel about the fictional wife of Jesus Christ but ended up talking herself out of this daunting task.
Fifteen years later, she mustered enough audacity to put pen to paper. After four and a half years of researching and writing, she produced a mesmerizing novel written in the first person.
From the start, Ana’s voice rings loud and clear: “I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth. I called him Beloved, and he, laughing, called me Little Thunder.”
This was no ordinary woman.
Her father, Matthias, head scribe and counselor to Herod Antipas, suggests that her “talents were better suited for prophets and messiahs, for men who parted seas, built temples, and conferred with God on mountaintops.”
Her mother, Hadar, believes that a demon named Lilith had visited at birth and defiled Ana with unnatural tendencies.
Fortunately, Ana receives comfort and encouragement from her paternal Aunt Yaltha, a fascinating woman who experienced pain and tragedy but somehow found the courage to reassemble her broken life.
Inspired by Aunt Yaltha, Ana uses her formidable talents to chronicle the lives of neglected and silenced women. Her passion is evident throughout the novel: “To be ignored to be forgotten, this was the worst sadness of all. I swore an oath to set down their accomplishments and praise their flourishings, no matter how small.”
At age fifteen, Ana is forced to hide her parchments and scrolls and prepare for a betrothal to Nathaniel ben Hananiah, an elderly widower. At their first meeting in the marketplace, Ana faints and is rescued by a young, bearded man with remarkable eyes that exude generosity and kindness. Ana experiences an intense attraction: “My heart bounded up, along with an odd smelting in my thighs, as if my legs might give way once again.”
A series of unexpected circumstances (possibly manifested by Ana and Aunt Yaltha) follow, and the unwanted suitor dies from an illness. Considered a widow and defiled, Ana faces an uncertain future on the fringes of society. Another chance meeting with Jesus leads to a proposal. Anxious to be rid of Ana, her father gives his consent.
What follows is the author’s masterful attempt to fill that ten-year gap (ages 20 to 30) of Jesus Christ’s life. Ms. Kidd succeeds in demonstrating his humanity while downplaying his divinity. Jesus loves and worships God, but he is also determined to support his wife, mother, and family. Living in a crowded, multi-generational home has its challenges—limited funds, argumentative brothers, a resentful sister-in-law, a capricious goat—but Jesus rises above the fray.
The familiar events of Jesus’s life are retold through Ana’s eyes, as his wife and the sister of Judas Iscariot. Adding this twist to the narrative, created several subplots involving the conflicted man who would betray Jesus.
I highly recommend this compelling, multi-dimensional story about an extraordinary woman who refuses to be held back by a culture determined to keep her quiet and hidden.
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Note: Sue Monk Kidd is hosting a virtual book club for The Book of Longings during the month of May. Find out more here.