This is the story of Ana, wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth. There is a long silent period of time in the Biblical account of the life of Jesus. What if Jesus had been married during that time? What would that have been like? What would his wife have been like? This is the fiction of this novel, and it is handled artfully and respectfully, seamlessly weaving in what is known and what the author has imagined. The premise of this novel in the hands of a less than excellent author, might have been a disaster, instead it is masterful and I found it enriching. Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings, among others, has taken a potentially tricky and controversial fictional idea and made it into a beautiful story.
There is not much I can say about this book without spoiling it, because for me part of the intrigue was wondering how it would be handled and how the story would be told. I was a little afraid of what it might do to my own imagining of Jesus’ life on earth and his humanity, and I have to say that I felt completely comfortable with it and it actually enhanced my own understanding.
Really though, the book is more about Ana. At the beginning I found it a bit slow, but the background is essential and the convergence of events in the end was brilliant. This is one of those books that makes Bible times come alive. There are extensive Author’s Notes at the end which are instructive and fascinating. She spent a year researching and almost 5 years writing this novel, and the effort shows. This would be an excellent choice for a book club read. Penguin Random House has a thoughtful Reading Guide which includes a conversation with Sue Monk Kidd and some questions to facilitate further discussion: click here. I must end with the flyleaf description that captures the book so well:
“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 realise 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.”