Tag Archives: Gender Roles

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS: a novel

 

 

 

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.

Book Summary:
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.

Reviewer’s Note:
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.

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GIVER OF STARS: a novel

6-minute audio with former pack horse librarian

Alice asked Margery, “If you’ve never been further than. . . Lewisburg. . . how is it you know so much about animals in Africa?” Margery yanks her mule to a halt. “Are you seriously asking me that question? ” The answer of course is because of books. Books that brought stories of Africa to Appalachia. . .

In the midst of the Great Depression, Eastern Kentucky was among those states most severely economically impacted. Thirty percent of the state was illiterate. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative, The Pack Horse Library project, implemented by the Works Progress Administration in 1934 brought hope of a better future through literacy. The project provided jobs to local pack horse riders, mostly women, with a salary of  $28 a month ($495 in today’s dollars).  The project ended in 1943 with the ramp up to World War II and the elimination of the WPA projects.

The Pack Horse program was not immediately accepted by the mountain folks. Literacy threatened the status quo.  “Families should be reading the Bible. Nothing else.”  “We are struggling to control what influences are coming in and out of our own homes.”

Jojo Moyes, known for her numerous heartwarming romance novels, several made into movies (Me Before You) has written her first historical fiction featuring the Pack Horse Library project. Fans of her romance fiction will not be disappointed.

GIVER OF STARS, set in eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression, features a coterie of fictional pack horse librarians – Margery O’Hare, the daughter of a cruel and deceitful bootlegger heads the group. A woman comfortable in her own skin, outspoken and independent; preferring life alone in the wilds of the mountains. A woman stained by her family legacy. Alice Van Cleve, the daughter of wealthy English parents, newly wed to Bennett Van Cleve, the  son of a cruel American coal mine baron; her new life filled with coal dust and pack horses not racing thoroughbreds and Mint Juleps. Izzy, the reclusive daughter of local parents; the victim of polio. Beth, the daughter of a local farmer, and Sophia, the African-American sister of a crippled miner and a trained librarian from Louisville.

The town residents and the folks up  and down the hollers and along the creek beds include a destitute and distrustful father struggling to raise his motherless daughters, a few pompous asses of the human kind, most notably, Alice’s father-in-law, and a miner with a heart of gold and a determination to marry the wild child, Margery.

The novel is packed tightly with a whole slew of themes that are examined closely and intimately at times; some painful, some joyous, most true-to-life and a couple dragged out too long. Overall an enjoyable read that brings the reader into the beauty of the mountains at a time when nature is threatened by mining and the isolated residents face a paradigm shift in long-held traditions, gender roles and racial discrimination.

Jojo Moyes and “Giver of Stars” and a second novel by Kim Michelle Richardson entitled “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” were published in 2019 within months of each other and have been the subject of some controversy. Some critics feel elements of “Giver of Stars” closely resemble those in “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”. Both novels cover the Pack Horse Librarian project. Be that as it may – both novels have been very popular and Richardson’s novel is on my TBR list.

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