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Why I love it
Sue Monk Kidd, the brilliant, beloved storyteller who gifted us with The Secret Life of Bees, has done it again. Her most recent treasure, The Book of Longings, is the first book that has literally taken my breath away. As I read, I had to close it and breathe deeply, again and again.
Both a radical reimagining of the New Testament, and an homage to all untamed, trespassing women, The Book of Longings is right on time for this moment. The book tells the story of Ana—a brave and ambitious woman who rails against her repressive society, fighting to express herself and realize her full potential. As the daughter of a wealthy politician, Ana is expected to marry a man chosen for her, and not the penniless carpenter named Jesus she meets in a chance encounter. What follows is a stunning and universal portrayal of women’s longing, silencing, and awakening.
I read The Book of Longings right after my own book Untamed made its way into the world, and found Ana of Sue Monk Kidd's masterpiece to be a breathtakingly untamed woman. I will carry The Book of Longings in my heart forever, because it reflects what was always there. I invite every trespassing woman to find her own journey in Ana's story—and to finish this novel mesmerized, encouraged, and emboldened.
Raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris with ties to the ruler of Galilee, Ana is rebellious and ambitious, a relentless seeker with a brilliant, curious mind and a daring spirit. She yearns for a pursuit worthy of her life, but finds no outlet for her considerable talents. Defying the expectations placed on women, she engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes secret narratives about neglected and silenced women. When she meets the eighteen-year-old Jesus, each is drawn to and enriched by the other’s spiritual and philosophical ideas. He becomes a floodgate for her intellect, but also the awakener of her heart.
Their marriage unfolds with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, James and Simon, and their mother, Mary. Here, Ana’s pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to the Roman occupation of Israel, partially led by her charismatic adopted brother, Judas. She is sustained by her indomitable aunt Yaltha, who is searching for her long-lost daughter, as well as by other women, including her friend Tabitha, who is sold into slavery after she was raped, and Phasaelis, the shrewd wife of Herod Antipas. Ana’s impetuous streak occasionally invites danger. When one such foray forces her to flee Nazareth for her safety shortly before Jesus' public ministry begins, she makes her way with Yaltha to Alexandria, where she eventually finds refuge and purpose in unexpected surroundings.
Grounded in meticulous historical research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus’ life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring 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.
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