Monday, May 15, 2023

Review: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

The contributions and lives of women are often overlooked. The Bible names very few women compared to men. Even in the begats (Genesis tracing the lineage from Adam to Noah), women are marginalized, as if they had no bearing on the birth of this string of men. Of course they aren't completely erased; there are a few women named in the Bible. Ruth even has her own book. But there is certainly far less about the women and their lives than there is about the men. What if that wasn't true? What would the Biblical world have looked like from a woman of the times' perspective? What would it have been like to be a woman close to Jesus? What, in fact, if Jesus had had a wife? What would she have been like? Sue Monk Kidd imagines this very scenario for her novel, The Book of Longings, not only giving Jesus a wife but giving that wife a voice, a story, and a perspective of her own.

Ana is 14 and from a respected family when she first sees the kind and compassionate Jesus ben Joseph in the marketplace. She is intrigued by him even as she is destined to be given in marriage elsewhere. But Ana is not a compliant daughter and is ultimately forsaken by her father, resulting in her marriage to Jesus. She finds a very different life with his family, especially as he starts leaving for longer and longer periods of time.

There is, of course, no doubt about where this story will end up, even if Jesus and his divinity is not the center of it. Ana and the women around her really take center stage in the novel. Kidd has done a good job of researching what life would have been like for women in the first century, although Ana does occasionally come off as anachronistic in her beliefs, actions, and demands. Even so, her desire to have a voice and tell her own story for posterity is a thrilling one that helps drive the narrative, especially as it slows down through the middle of the novel. Obviously this is a very different take on Jesus, his life, and his miracles than the Bible. Ana, narrating the story herself, presents him as wholly human with the failures and blind spots that all humans have. The writing is well done and the story is an interesting take for sure but I'm not sure, in the end, it was entirely successful.

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