The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you are a fan of myth retellings or Biblical tale reimaginings, this
is likely a book for you. Sue Monk Kidd also takes the material she
wrote a memoir about over a decade ago and uses it in this novel. That
memoirhad an impact on me when I first read it so the connection - The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
- about her discovery of Gnosticism, feminist spirituality, and how
that changed her perspective of her own faith. It was easy for me to see
how those ideas are wound through this novel.
Okay, so if that
didn't scare you away, I feel I should also say that you will get more
out of this book the more you know about the Biblical/Historical Jesus.
But many who know a lot about that may be turned off by the idea of
Jesus having a wife. The author addresses this very well in the back of
the book, and I would encourage reading that if it is something you are
not sure about. She acknowledges which things she changed from the
traditional Biblical narrative, which things she borrowed from other
places, and which came from her own mind. If anything, Kidd is a master
of threading her research into her stories. I read The Thunder: Perfect Mind first when I read Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels
so I definitely recognized it when it came up in this story; I was
relieved to see her credit it and explain where it comes from after the
end of the novel.
That is a lot of overture and caveat, but any
reader of Sue Monk Kidd should not be surprised by feminist
underpinnings to this novel. It is about Ana, the wife of Jesus, from
her childhood to later in life. Ana begs her father to allow her to
learn how to read and write so in an era of expensive parchment and lack
of education for women, she learns how to read and write, and in more
than one language. Learning and writing, inspiration and calling are all
important themes in the book as Ana navigates feeling called while also
being told it isn't appropriate (from her family) or possible (once she
is married and much poorer) by the people around her.
do you do with a woman who believes she has something to say? I enjoyed
the thought experiment of such a woman and what the man Jesus (based on a
blending of Biblical text and historical documents) would have done
with such a wife. I kind of hate that I enjoyed it but growing up in
fundamentalism it's pretty hard not to want to imagine the what if's
from the women excluded from stories.
The other thing that I
think Kidd does very well is the way she weaves in the stories of the
New Testament into Ana's story but gives them a little twist. The first
time this is hinted at is when Ana visits the temple in Jerusalem, but
you really see different contexts for the stoning ("let he who is
without sin cast the first stone"), the "Good Samaritan," and that's
just the beginning.
Ana loves Jesus, but she only really knows
him as a kind man, who has a calling of his own. The way they release
each other into that calling is an incredible act of love, but she never
sees him as magical Jesus; she never sees any miracles for instance.
There are reasons for this in the text but I like how it gives her a
very specific personal version of him, and she loves him.
I had a copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss; it came out April 21, 2020.
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