What Sue Monk Kidd has done with her latest novel is far from predictable, but she is steering her formidable narrative talents into somewhat familiar territory. How does one write a compelling, evocative and, most importantly, new take on one of the most analyzed and fictionalized people who’s ever lived? With a tremendous narrative voice.
The Book of Longings follows Ana, a young girl growing up under the reign of Herod Antipas with dreams of making her ideas resound across the ages. Ana’s sharp thoughts and probing mind eventually bring her into contact with an 18-year-old man named Jesus of Nazareth, who just happens to be as intellectually precocious and open as she is. Their curiosity about each other turns to romance, and Ana finds herself wrapped up in one of history’s great sagas, through it all searching for new and lasting ways to carry her own voice not behind Jesus’ but alongside him.
The gripping conceit at the heart of this novel stems from the idea that, if Jesus were married, his wife might be completely erased by the history that followed their relationship. This raises spellbinding questions. What kind of spirit would have been so compelling to Jesus? What kind of strength would she possess? And most importantly, how hard would she fight to be heard?
Kidd’s narrative, etched into the emotionally precise and tactile prose of Ana’s first-person voice, doesn’t always answer these questions directly. The Book of Longings is not an attempt to rewrite history. Instead it’s an exploration of a triumphant, fierce spirit and the stories she aches to tell. There’s an exuberance to Ana that vibrates off every page, and that is a testament to Kidd’s gifts.