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Summary and book reviews of The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings

by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd X
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
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  • Published:
    Apr 2020, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

An extraordinary story set in the first century about a woman who finds her voice and her destiny, from the celebrated number one New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings.

In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.

Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.

Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus's life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable 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. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the height of her powers.

i.

I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth. I called him Beloved and he, laughing, called me Little Thunder. He said he heard rumblings inside me while I slept, a sound like thunder from far over the Nahal Zippori valley or even farther beyond the Jordan. I don't doubt he heard something. All my life, longings lived inside me, rising up like nocturnes to wail and sing through the night. That my husband bent his heart to mine on our thin straw mat and listened was the kindness I most loved in him. What he heard was my life begging to be born.

ii.

My testament begins in the fourteenth year of my life, the night my aunt led me to the flat roof of my father's grand house in Sepphoris, bearing a plump object wrapped in linen.

I followed her up the ladder, eyeing the mysterious bundle, which was tied on her back as if it were a newborn baby, unable to guess what she secreted. She was humming a Hebrew song about Jacob's ladder, doing so rather loudly, and I worried the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the title of the novel. Ana is a character defined by her longings and aspirations. She is passionate about the power of writing, of narratives, of having a voice, as well as lifting up the voices of other women. How does the novel's theme of finding and expressing one's authentic voice unfold in the story? What forces work to silence contemporary women and what emboldens them?
  2. What role does Ana's incantation bowl play in her quest to realize her longing? What is the importance of ritualizing one's faith or longings? If you were given an incantation bowl in which to inscribe your deepest longing, what might you write? What can our longings teach us?
  3. Though fictional, The Book of Longings is also a deeply researched account of ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I enjoyed this novel immensely, but found myself irritated by what I felt was a bit of "bait-and-switch" based on its published description. It's billed as centering around the protagonist's partnership with Jesus, but in actuality the two are separated for most of the book and their lives seldom intersect. There's nothing particularly challenging about the themes contained in The Book of Longings, but it's nonetheless superb historical fiction and a great tale of female empowerment, especially for those interested in learning more about the time period and readers who enjoy a feminist take on history...continued

Full Review Members Only (658 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
The period details are fascinating, but the dialogue can feel over-starched...Also, Ana’s feminist consciousness seems immaculately conceived, wholly uncontaminated by the trappings of her culture...Confined in Ana’s earnest narration, the story provides no critical distance, no irony, no real thematic ambiguity...The best historical fiction disorients us by demonstrating the uncanny nature of the past — a world like and not like ours, woven through with strands of ancient DNA. Unfortunately, The Book of Longings rarely confronts us with anything that might challenge our contemporary liberalism.

PopSugar
[A] novel that imagines the life of an unforgettable woman, written with reverence to the topic it covers. This intricate story is an epic journey, which fans of The Red Tent will devour.

Good Housekeeping
The latest from Sue Monk Kidd introduces us to Ana, a courageous, intelligent woman who marries Jesus long before his public ministry begins. Based on meticulous historical research, this is a humanizing look at Jesus the man, as well as an inspiring story of a strong woman living in a society bent on her silence.

Associated Press
“[Kidd’s] painstaking research and artful crafting of setting and character ensures that The Book of Longings is not just an extraordinary novel, but one with lasting power...[her] brilliance shines through on so many levels, but not the least in her masterful, reverential approach to capturing Jesus of Nazareth as a fully human young man...[The Book of Longings] is an epic masterpiece that is a triumph of insight and storytelling.

Christian Science Monitor
Sue Monk Kidd brings to life a spirited, and spiritually aware, young woman who must come to terms with her own heartfelt desires and ambitions...Other novelists have imagined the human side of Jesus, and some have envisioned him as married. But no other writer has fleshed out a partner who can stand on her own, who is intellectually and spiritually well matched with Jesus...Kidd’s research into first-century Jewish life, along with her vivid descriptions of the villages and terrain, make Ana’s story come alive.

AARP
The beloved The Secret Life of Bees author spins new gold from one of the greatest stories ever told...this is a deeply tender story of two outliers who find each other: a very human Jesus full of fire, yearnings and doubts about being the Messiah, and an even more fiery Ana (Jesus calls her “Little Thunder"), who refuses the traditional role of women to find her own voice, and promote the voices of all women. Provocative, passionate and extremely moving, this is both a love story for the ages and a portrait of a woman way ahead of her biblical times.

Kirkus Reviews
A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Booklist
An engrossing, briskly paced story in an appealing voice...the message about the importance of kindness and the power of women's voices should resonate strongly with today's readers.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In addition to providing a woman-centered version of New Testament events, Kidd's novel is also a vibrant portrait of a woman striving to preserve and celebrate women's stories—her own and countless others.

Library Journal (starred review)
Don't shy away from this historical fiction page-turner thinking that it falls into the inspirational genre. The intensity, bravery, and strength of character of Ana, wife of Jesus of Nazareth, as imagined by Kidd will inspire readers but in a different way: to live authentically and remain true to oneself.

Reader Reviews

Sue B

What if???
This book was so very interesting from the very start till the end, couldn't put it down and thought about it a lot when not reading. What if Jesus was married? What if his brother in law was Judas? What if he lived a very normal, poor life until ...   Read More

Cathy

Amazing
As a fan of Sue Monk Kidd, I eagerly awaited her new novel. What a captivating story she has woven, it is a completely different outlook on the life of Jesus, told from the perspective of his wife. Wow! It is beautifully and respectfully written and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Nag Hammadi Texts

Nag Hammadi Texts: The Gospel of Thomas and The Apocryphon of John Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Book of Longings was in part inspired by a work entitled "The Thunder, Perfect Mind." Narrated by a female divinity, the poem is one of over 50 ancient texts that were found near the town of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.

The tale surrounding the discovery of the works is fascinating in its own right. Several different accounts of how the texts were found have been pieced together from interviews and rumors, but they tend to mostly agree on certain key details: It is generally believed that a farmer named Muhammad 'Ali al-Samman, possibly with one or more of his brothers, was digging for fertilizer when he unearthed a large clay jar and broke it open. Inside were thirteen books, or codices, in Coptic script, ...

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