Book Review: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

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.

Audio-Book Excerpt

Buy Links

Amazon (US) | Amazon (Canada) | Indigo | Barnes & Noble

Note: Sue Monk Kidd is hosting a virtual book club for The Book of Longings during the month of May. Find out more here.

Oprah and Sue Monk Kidd

suemonkkidd

Yesterday, on Super Soul Sunday, Oprah sat under the oaks with Sue Monk Kidd, best-selling author of The Invention of Wings (an Oprah Book Club selection) and seven other books. I assumed that Oprah would be discussing the novel and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the topic of the telecast was “The Soul of a Writer.” Throughout the telecast, I listened attentively as Sue shared a lifetime of wisdom.

Sue’s journey began on a traditional note. At age 20, she married and started a nursing career, a decision that Sue describes as a “failure of courage.” Her true calling went unheeded for almost a decade. At age 29, she read The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton and experienced one Aha! moment after another.

On the morning of her 30th birthday, Sue marched into the kitchen and announced: “I’m going to be a writer,” an announcement she has labelled a great absurdity. While she had written stories during her childhood and kept a journal, she had not produced any other written work. After discovering this “small true light,” Sue spent the next two decades honing her craft.

Having read and enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees, I was shocked to hear that an esteemed teacher at a conference had read the first chapter and informed Sue that it did not show potential for a novel. Thankfully, Sue was led by serendipity to find her way back to the novel which later sold over 6 million copies.

Quotable Quotes

We should take our own breath once in a while.

There is no place so awake and alive as the edge of becoming.

The soul often speaks through longing.

Prayer is the attention of the heart.

What is the point of spirituality if we don’t put it in some form of practice?

At some point, we must acknowledge: This moment is enough. This place is enough. I’m enough.

Just to be is holy. Just to be is a gift.

Our souls are meant to love and create.

What we pay attention to becomes our God.