The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is, simply put, a gorgeous story. It takes a very real, long-held idea that Jesus had a wife and imagines who that woman could be. Except, this is not a story of Jesus’ wife. It is the story of a formidable woman in her own right, stymied by religious and societal customs and longing for a different way of life in her own right.
The Book of Longings has an added benefit of showing Jesus as very few stories do, as a man rather than a profit, as someone who worries about money and providing for his family, someone in love. It is also a respectful portrayal, showing a man increasingly burdened by his overwhelming faith and need to help those less fortunate than he. In fact, Ms. Kidd’s version of Jesus is so believable and so gentle that it made me sort of fall in love with him and definitely made me rethink everything we supposedly know about the man and the myth.
While we certainly get an imagined glimpse into Jesus and Judas’ lives, the story is all Ana’s. Born to a prominent, a.k.a. privileged Jewish family, her father allows her the rare opportunity to learn to read and write. She uses her hard-won talents to record the women’s stories, providing them with a voice to share their histories, no matter how horrific. Along the way, she refuses to submit to the status quo. Is it any wonder she catches the eye of Jesus?
The Book of Longings captured my attention from the very first. Ana is so fierce, but she also chooses her battles. She might not be the most intelligent character you will meet, but she is loyal and, more importantly, determined to make a difference for her gender. Spanning the geographical region of Jerusalem as well as ancient Alexandria, Ms. Kidd’s lush prose makes the era come to life in a more realistic way than any documentary. The entire novel is a profound story of hope and belief among suffering most of us can only imagine. The Book of Longings will be among my top reads for 2020.