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The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Historical fiction

The Book of Longings

by Sue Monk Kidd

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Quick take

A not-so-religious reimagining of Jesus' life that beautifully tackles the question: What if he had a feminist wife?

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist

    Feminist

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Quest

    Quest

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Writerlife

    Writer's life

Synopsis

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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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Book of Longings.
The Book of Longings

Sepphoris

16–17 CE

i.

I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth. I called him Beloved and he, laughing, called me Little Thunder. He said he heard rumblings inside me while I slept, a sound like thunder from far over the Nahal Zippori valley or even farther beyond the Jordan. I don’t doubt he heard something. All my life, longings lived inside me, rising up like nocturnes to wail and sing through the night. That my husband bent his heart to mine on our thin straw mat and listened was the kindness I most loved in him. What he heard was my life begging to be born.

ii.

My testament begins in the fourteenth year of my life, the night my aunt led me to the flat roof of my father’s grand house in Sepphoris, bearing a plump object wrapped in linen.

I followed her up the ladder, eyeing the mysterious bundle, which was tied on her back as if it were a newborn baby, unable to guess what she secreted. She was humming a Hebrew song about Jacob’s ladder, doing so rather loudly, and I worried the sound would tumble through the slit windows of the house and awaken my mother. She had forbidden us to go to the roof together, afraid Yaltha would fill my head with audacities.

Unlike my mother, unlike every woman I knew, my aunt was educated. Her mind was an immense feral country that spilled its borders. She trespassed everywhere. She had come to us from Alexandria four months ago for reasons of which no one would speak. I’d not known my father had a sister until she’d appeared one day dressed in a plain, undyed tunic, her small body erect with pride, eyes glowering. My father didn’t embrace her, nor did my mother. They gave her a servant’s room that opened onto the upper courtyard, and they ignored my interrogations. Yaltha, too, avoided my questions. “Your father made me swear not to speak of my past. He would rather you think I dropped from the sky in the manner of bird shit.”

Mother said Yaltha had an impudent mouth. For once, we were in agreement. My aunt’s mouth was a wellspring of thrilling and unpredictable utterances. It was what I most loved about her.

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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.

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Member ratings (19,768)

  • Megan T.

    Pleasant Hill, IA

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I am in love with this story! The first 50 pages were difficult, but I soon began to hang on every word. It’s so beautifully written and has easily become one of my favorite books!

  • Karina D.

    Colchester, VT

    Absolutely amazing and moving story that brings to life the women surrounding Jesus’ life and death. Sue Monk Kidd’s writing is vivid and detailed, and I felt like I was transported back in time. ❤️❤️

  • Terri P.

    Marco Island, FL

    Amazing . I admittedly prefer “what if” to “who done it” . Loved the portrayal of womens lives during that historical time and the possibilities of “what if”. A must read for historical novel lovers.

  • Melissa G.

    Visalia, CA

    I wish I’d had this story as a younger woman, feeling powerless and silenced in church spaces. An incredibly powerful read! Made me start some research into gnostic literature. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Rory F.

    Denver, CO

    Wow! What powerful writing. I loved all this historical references but loved them especially with a feminist perspective. Ana is a fierce protagonist who I deeply connected with. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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