Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sue Monk Kidd's The Book of Longings boldly imagines a wife for Jesus of Nazareth

Historical novelists build their works around recorded history, creatively inventing characters and scenarios to fill liminal spaces. Along these lines, in a daring what-if, Kidd imagines Jesus Christ’s missing years, speculating that he followed Jewish tradition and therefore was married.

The daughter of Herod Antipas’ head scribe, Ana narrates her engrossing, briskly paced story in an appealing voice. Well-educated and impetuous, she loves to write, learns about women’s secret histories from her courageous Aunt Yaltha, and chafes against gender restrictions.

Shared intellectual curiosity and mutual respect mark her marriage to Jesus, a caring, devout stonemason who champions the downtrodden, and Kidd warmly presents their relationship. When God calls Jesus, however, Ana must, sadly, be left behind.

From wealthy Sepphoris to humble Nazareth to Alexandria and beyond, Kidd describes a first-century world full of political and religious tensions, which feels simultaneously ancient and freshly awake with spiritual possibility. Ana’s feminist beliefs and pursuits may stretch credulity at times, but the message about the importance of kindness and the power of women’s voices should resonate strongly with today’s readers.

The Book of Longings was published this week by Viking; I reviewed it for Booklist's Feb. 15th issue.

It's interesting to see that, 17 years after the publication of Dan Brown's mega-bestselling The Da Vinci Code—which was reviled and even banned due to its premise that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child with her—the notion of a married Jesus no longer causes the same level of controversy.  In this case, it helps that Ana is an invented character, putting this book clearly in the realm of historical fiction, and she, not her husband, is the center of the tale.  Also, Kidd deliberately chose to focus on Jesus's humanity rather than write a religious novel.


  1. Thanks for reviewing this novel, Sarah. 'The Secret Life of Bees' is among my favorite novels, and I'm excited to see she has a new one out. This one looks especially intriguing. I recently read Richard Zimler's "The Gospel According to Lazarus, which also creates a story about Jesus and the people around him from a briefly mentioned event in the Bible. It was fascinating.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jeannine! This was my first experience reading one of her novels. I appreciated her smooth writing style. Zimler's novel did sound interesting. I haven't read his newest one yet, but did enjoy his earlier Guardian of the Dawn, set in India.

  3. Sounds interesting. I liked The Secret Life of Bees, but having a huge love for Charleston, SC, I loved The Invention of Wings...since I enjoy biblical fiction, I might have to try this one.

  4. The depiction of daily life in biblical times was one of my favorite parts of the book. Hope you'll enjoy it!