He said he heard rumblings inside me while I slept, a sound of thunder . . . All my life, longings lived inside me, rising up like nocturnes to wail and sing through the night . . . What he heard was my life begging to be born.
The Book of Longings is a work of fiction.
Ana, the daughter of the chief scribe to Herod expresses her longings to be remembered throughout time in this pseudo-diary account of her life. She wants the world to know what life was like for a woman in the time of Herod and Pontius Pilate – and what life would look like if you buck the system.
Her story is a simple but harsh one. Women, in general, had no rights. They’re property to use and misuse. Wealthy men use their daughters as bargaining chips to enhance their wealth and power. The lower class women live lives of arduous physical labor while bearing child after child.
Sue Monk Kidd has chosen to present Ana as representative of all women – rich and poor- who dare to speak out, who seek recognition to make an impact on their own as individuals; women with the right to chose their own futures and live their own dreams.
Ana’s early childhood in an upper class home was unorthodox. She preferred learning foreign languages and idles away time in her father’s library developing talents as a scribe. Her relationship with her mother is contentious as Ana refuses to learn skills necessary to become a subservient wife. Her relationship with her father is distant. He doesn’t so much indulge Ana as overlook her quirky behavior with disinterest.
When Ana is fourteen-years-old, she begins her menses, and is quickly betrothed by her father to an old beetle-eyed and cruel landowner. Ana’s introduction to her betrothed is a public spectacle in the heart of the marketplace intended to highlight the high status of both families. Her reaction upon meeting her intended was to faint dead-away. She is rescued from her fall by a young bearded man who visage brings on “odd smelting” in her thighs.
The old goat croaks before the marriage takes place. And more importantly before it is consummated. The death marks Ana’s future as it is assumed that the betrothed Ana is no longer a virgin thus useless baggage to society. Ana at fourteen-years-old, is seen as a widow facing a bleak future through no fault of her own.
Ana defies social custom and wanders the forest and hills nearby for solace and discovers a cave – and in the cave she discovers the kind savior from the market, the young peasant, praying. They introduce themselves and she learns his name is Jesus. This unlikely duo form a close friendship that ultimately leads to marriage.
There is no doubt that Ana and Jesus love each other unconditionally. In one touching scene, Ana earns the endearing nickname “Little Thunder” as Jesus overhears some internal struggle occurring inside her gut while she slept. She, expresses her love, by calling him Beloved.
For Ana, moving to Jesus’s family compound filled with siblings and their spouses is a shock. She has to partake in harsh physical tasks that she assumes to the best of her ability. In time, their marriage is strained as Jesus begins to realize that he has a mission from God that he must fulfill and begins to spend massive amounts of time away from Ana. The day arrives that Jesus tells Ana that he must go on alone to discover what he must do to fulfill his predestined future.
Ana never gives up on Jesus. Her life, after he leaves her, is one tragic day after another. With the help of other enlightened people, she is provided the means to document her story returning to her own passion as a scribe. Through Ana we follow the final days of Jesus concluding with his death. We feel her agony as she witnesses his final steps burdened with the weight of the cross. We cry with her as she stands at the foot of the cross.
Phew. This was a hard one. It took me a couple of weeks to address this review. Here is it is, Easter weekend 2020, sheltering in my home. Ana’s story is powerful but being married to our Savior, Jesus Christ of Nazareth will always beg top billing.
The book, well-researched, at times felt stilted and started out slowly in my estimation. Things did speed up as familiar Biblical names and scenes entered the story line. By the end of the book, I was in tears.
Now with the world crushed by Covid-19, and several of my family valiantly serving on the medical front lines, my nerves are on edge and affects how I perceive or react to things. This prickly reaction to things, that in the past would roll off my back like water off a duck, most certainly affected my review of this fiction that touches sensitive religious topics.
Ana’s need for her husband, Jesus, to be “just a man” bumps up against his insatiable need to serve his God. After years of my viewing Jesus in stained glass windows rocking a halo it felt, at times, strange to see him described as a plain and simple man, just like the rest of us poor souls. Vulnerable and weak. I am not a deeply religious person so my discomfort was surprising to me.