I have always wished that I knew more about the human life of Jesus. Between his birth and when he addressed his elders in the Temple, we know nothing. And after that, until he begins his public life, again, crickets. I wonder what kind of kid he was. Did he get along with Joseph? Did he understand his role in the history of the world? Did he know he would die a violent death?
The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd, gives us her ideas of the human side of Jesus, at least as a young adult. I was somewhat reluctant to begin this book. As a believing Christian, I didn’t want to read a Jesus-bashing book. Reviews led me to think the novel wouldn’t make me uncomfortable, so I dove in. It didn’t.
In her acknowledgments, Kidd addresses the liberties she takes on what we know about the life of Jesus. That’s why her book is called a novel, she says. The book, in fact, offers Jesus as a secondary figure. The Book of Longings is about the role of women in the Middle East during those times.
Ana comes from a wealthy family in Jerusalem. Her father works for King Herod. Her parents want nothing more than for Ana to do as other girls do: marry and bear sons. Ana, however, has different ideas. She wants to be a scholar. She is spirited and intelligent and independent. When her first betrothal to a much-older man falls apart, she isn’t unhappy, partly because she didn’t want to marry an older man, but mostly because she was mesmerized by a young man named Jesus. He was equally interested in Ana.
Eventually, Ana and Jesus marry, and have a daughter. But Jesus feels a calling to lead the people of Israel. In the novel, at least, he doesn’t know what he’s really supposed to do; he just feels as though God is telling him to lead. He and Ana depart, they think temporarily. Ana’s brother, a rapid anti-Roman named Judas, follows his brother-in-law Jesus.
Ana, along with her aunt travel to Alexandria where she awaits word to join Jesus when things have settled down. In the meantime, they live in a commune of sorts with other women, and are able to do things they would never have been able to do in Israel. Three years after they separate, Ana learns that Jesus is about to be crucified. She goes to him, but only has time for a quick goodbye. And we all know what happens to Judas….
The story of Jesus and Ana is told gently and in a lovely way. Mostly, however, the reader cheers for Ana and her “sisters” who are about to make what they hope is a difference in their society.
I really enjoyed The Book of Longings.