I was glad to have the opportunity to read The Book of Longings as an advanced reader’s copy, before its launch date of April 21, 2020. Sue Monk Kidd is the acclaimed author of the best selling The Secret Life of Bees, and she also wrote one of my all-time favorite novels, The Invention of Wings. (See my blog review of that here.) She still writes well, but this new theme proved to be a bit problematic for her.
This book is about Ana, a fictional wife of Jesus. It is her story more than Jesus’, and also gives backstory to Judas as well, since he was an adopted brother to Ana. I was content to see how this topic of Jesus having a wife would be explored, but in the end, I was disappointed.
There were annoyingly unnecessary, minor historical inaccuracies, but I was more disheartened by glaring omissions of Jesus’ unique birth, his remarkable healing record, or even ultimately, the fact (or even the rumor) of his resurrection. In the ten years Ana was married to Jesus, there were no mentions of any incidents or reasons why Jesus’ mother Mary might think he was capable of turning water into wine. Jesus’ whole ministry, except for his baptism by John, and his excruciating cruxifixction, all happens off stage.
Ana just saw her husband as a wonderful man she loved, a regular guy who had the audacity and imprudence to eventually take on the unexpected mantle of the Messiah. Ana too had a voice that needed to be heard in the world, and had spiritual insight she wanted to impart. She was a feminist with power and ability of her own, which had gotten her into trouble with the authorities as well.
Ana was friends with Tabitha, and Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany, but there was no mention of Jesus exerting any healing power in their lives, let alone having performed a dramatic, recent raising from the dead. The elimination of these facets of the gospel is so rampant and obvious, that one must wonder if the author is suggesting that these things did not happen, and were only embellished later after Ana’s time? The fly leaf promises a focus on Jesus’ humanity, which sounds all well and good, but the way that is done neuters Jesus, what he accomplished, and why we should even care 2000 years later.
Up until the end, I thought I’d give this book four stars, but it slipped down to three stars for me by the end. I regret that this accomplished author so blatantly underutilized an amazing opportunity to write something thought provoking, meaningful, or at least resonant.