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The Book of Longings
Cover of The Book of Longings
The Book of Longings
A Novel
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"An extraordinary novel . . . a triumph of insight and storytelling." —Associated Press"A true masterpiece." —Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed An extraordinary story set in the first...
"An extraordinary novel . . . a triumph of insight and storytelling." —Associated Press"A true masterpiece." —Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed An extraordinary story set in the first...
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  • "An extraordinary novel . . . a triumph of insight and storytelling." —Associated Press
    "A true masterpiece." —Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed
    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.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    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 sound would tumble through the slit windows of the house and awaken my mother. She had forbidden us to go to the roof together, afraid Yaltha would fill my head with audacities.

    Unlike my mother, unlike every woman I knew, my aunt was educated. Her mind was an immense feral country that spilled its borders. She trespassed everywhere. She had come to us from Alexandria four months ago for reasons of which no one would speak. I'd not known my father had a sister until she'd appeared one day dressed in a plain, undyed tunic, her small body erect with pride, eyes glowering. My father didn't embrace her, nor did my mother. They gave her a servant's room that opened onto the upper courtyard, and they ignored my interrogations. Yaltha, too, avoided my questions. "Your father made me swear not to speak of my past. He would rather you think I dropped from the sky in the manner of bird shit."

    Mother said Yaltha had an impudent mouth. For once, we were in agreement. My aunt's mouth was a wellspring of thrilling and unpredictable utterances. It was what I most loved about her.

    Tonight was not the first time we'd sneaked to the roof after dark to escape prying ears. Huddled beneath the stars, my aunt had told me of Jewish girls in Alexandria who wrote on wooden tablets that contained multiple wax slates, contraptions I could scarcely imagine. She'd recounted stories of Jewish women there who led synagogues, studied with philosophers, wrote poetry, and owned houses. Egyptian queens. Female pharaohs. Great Goddesses.

    If Jacob's ladder reached all the way to heaven, so, too, did ours.

    Yaltha had lived no more than four and a half decades, but already her hands were becoming knotted and misshapen. Her skin lay in pleats on her cheeks and her right eye drooped as if wilted. Despite that, she moved nimbly up the rungs, a graceful climbing spider. I watched as she hoisted herself over the top rung onto the roof, the pouch on her back swinging to and fro.

    We settled on grass mats, facing each other. It was the first day of the month of Tishri, but the cool fall rains had not yet come. The moon sat like a small fire on the hills. The sky, cloudless, black, full of embers. The smell of pita and smoke from cook fires drifted over the city. I burned with curiosity to know what she concealed in her bundle, but she gazed into the distance without speaking and I forced myself to wait.

    My own audacities lay hidden inside a carved cedar chest in a corner of my room: scrolled papyri, parchments, and scraps of silk, all of which bore my writings. There were reed pens, a...

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2020
    In Kidd's (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write. Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas--yes, that Judas--is soon disowned for his nonconformity--plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she's instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him--and after refusing to become Antipas' concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother's humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing--office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband--after a stillbirth, he condones Ana's practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus' active ministry begins--what will Ana's role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel's momentum. A daring concept not so daringly developed.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 24, 2020
    Reviewed by Norah Piehl, The latest from Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) proposes an audacious premise: Jesus of Nazareth was married, and his wife was a writer.

    In a richly imagined first-person narrative, Ana, the only daughter of Herod’s chief scribe, Matthias, tells of her origins as a writer and her life with Jesus. As a child in Sepphoris, Ana recounts, Matthias allowed her to pursue scholarly interests, and she was drawn toward documenting the stories of Biblical matriarchs (“Listening to the rabbis, one would’ve thought the only figures worth mentioning... were . When I was finally able to read the Scriptures for myself, I discovered (behold!) there were women”). Once Ana turns 15, however, she is forced to hide away her parchments and scrolls and, despite her protests, her parents arrange for her betrothal to the much older Nathaniel ben Hananiah. Overcome with despair while meeting Nathaniel for the first time in a marketplace, she grows faint and falls. A young bearded man helps her up, causing her to feel an “odd smelting” in her thighs. , After Nathaniel suddenly dies from an illness, Ana meets Jesus, the man from the marketplace, and the two bond over their status as outcasts—Ana as a “widow” and Jesus as a child of dubious parentage. In a particularly tender section filled with domestic details of their early marriage, Kidd imagines the young couple’s mutually supportive partnership even as Jesus’s call to ministry grows stronger. , Kidd deemphasizes the New Testament’s telling of Jesus’s miraculous deeds and divinity, instead positioning his early faithfulness and ministry—not to mention events that will ultimately take his life—as essentially political in nature. Jesus’s grassroots gospel of radical acceptance and love is contrasted with the violent revolution espoused by Ana’s adopted brother, Judas, with the two resistance movements presented as competing alternatives to the repressive Roman power over Israel. Historic and biblical details are balanced by lively dialogue and debates between characters about matters of faith and action. , Ana’s ambition and strong sense of justice make her a sympathetic character for modern readers, even if her rebellion against her parents may seem somewhat anachronistic for a woman of her time. Throughout the joys of her marriage and the trials of this long separation and its aftermath, Ana returns repeatedly to the hopeful words of her aunt and mentor, Yaltha: “Return to your longing. It will teach you everything.” In an afterword, Kidd offers insights into her research and makes the argument that Jesus’s marriage—despite later church assumptions and teachings—was not only possible but likely. , 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. (Apr.), Norah Piehl is the executive director of the Boston Book Festival.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2020

    A testament to the author's talent for creating both compelling characters and intriguing story lines, this audacious novel centers on Ana, the fictitious Galilean wife of Jesus and sister of the infamous disciple Judas. Ana is able to read and write, unusual for Jewish women of the time. Her powerful desire to record the stories of women who would otherwise be forgotten drives the first-person narrative, not the life of Jesus, who might be expected to take center stage. Early Christianity is treated respectfully, but as one among many other possible paths to spirituality. Historical details of daily life in the Roman Empire, strong female characters, and richly imagined glimpses into the philosophical communities and libraries in Egypt (where Ana is forced to take refuge) make this an excellent book club choice. VERDICT 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 (The Invention of Wings; The Secret Life of Bees) will inspire readers but in a different way: to live authentically and remain true to oneself.--Laurie Cavanaugh, Thayer P.L., Braintree, MA

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2020
    Historical novelists build their works around recorded history, creatively inventing characters and scenarios to fill liminal spaces. Along these lines, in a daring what-if, Kidd (The Invention of Wings, 2014) imagines Jesus Christ's missing years and speculates that he followed Jewish tradition and therefore was married. The daughter of Herod Antipas' head scribe, Ana, narrates her engrossing, briskly paced story in an appealing voice. Well-educated and impetuous, she loves to write, learns about women's secret histories from her courageous aunt Yaltha, and chafes against gender restrictions. Shared intellectual curiosity and mutual respect mark her marriage to Jesus, a caring, devout stonemason who champions the downtrodden, and Kidd warmly presents their relationship. When God calls Jesus, however, Ana must, sadly, be left behind. From wealthy Sepphoris to humble Nazareth to Alexandria and beyond, Kidd describes a first-century world full of political and religious tensions, which feels simultaneously ancient and freshly awake with spiritual possibility. Ana's feminist beliefs and pursuits may stretch credulity at times, but the message about the importance of kindness and the power of women's voices should resonate strongly with today's readers.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Kidd is a library favorite, and the bold subject of this novel will increase buzz tenfold.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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