I’m pleased to be joining the blogtour for Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel The Book Of Longings which has just been published in paperback. I heard a lot of good things about this book when it came out last year and since, like many people, I loved The Secret Life of Bees, I was very keen to read it.
First of all, what’s the book about?
Ana is born in Galilee at a time when women are seen as possessions, only leaving their fathers’ homes to marry. Ana longs to control her destiny. Taught to read despite her mother’s misgivings, she wants to be a writer and to find her own voice. A voice that will speak for the silenced women around her.
Betrothed to an elderly widower, Ana almost despairs. But an encounter with a charismatic young carpenter in Nazareth awakens new longings in her, and a different future opens up.
Yet this is not a simple love story. Ana’s journey will bring both joy and tragedy, but it will also be enriched by the female friendships she makes along the way.
The Book of Longings is an exquisite tale of dreams and desire, and of the power of women to change the world.
The Book of Longings is a beautifully written book with the fictional character of Ana firmly at its heart. Ana is a spirited and very intelligent young women, a girl really when we first meet her, and she wants so much more than the life she seems fated to live, married by arrangement to an older man she has no interest in. Ana is full of longings. Longings to be able to control her own destiny, longings to be able to write down her thoughts, longings to be loved and treasured, longings to be heard. As a woman, these seem like impossibilities. Until she meets a carpenter called Jesus who changes her world.
Although I did enjoy reading about Ana’s relationships with her family as a young girl and the way she escaped her fate, it was after she met Jesus that I really became engaged with the story. The author cleverly blends Ana’s story with the familiar story of Jesus and his disciples. If you know the story about Jesus saying ‘whoever is without sin can cast the first stone’ there will be a moment of recognition where the two accounts entwine. I enjoyed reading about Jesus’s decision to follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist and the impact that had on his family. It seemed that I was reading this at a particularly appropriate time of year, in the run up the Easter when many of the significant events in the book take place.
Biblical stories and history from that era, as is common with much of history, really focus on the experiences of men so it was great to read a book from a woman’s perspective. Through Ana, we find out not just about her but about what life may have been like for women in all levels of society. There was huge inequality and women had to shoulder so much of the work of running a house. Expectations that women would marry and produce children, produce sons, was high and they rarely had a say in any of the major or minor decisions which impacted their lives.
Throughout her life, Ana faces much sadness and many challenges but also many joys. It is her courage and strength which sustains her through the dark periods but she also experiences so much support from her female friends. She too, is a great support to many of the other women in the book, warning them of danger, looking after them when in need. Although there is no evidence that Jesus did marry, there are many people who think that he almost certainly would have – it would have been expected. If he did, I like to think that the relationship portrayed between him and Ana is largely accurate. A marriage where there was a meeting of minds, a marriage based on respect, a marriage where both partners support the other, a marriage full of love.
Whether you are a Christian or not, whether you are familiar with the Biblical stories or not, this book can be enjoyed as an excellent piece of historical fiction. It sheds new light on the role of women in a bygone era, brings familiar and new characters vividly to life and gives voice to women. Something that Ana would have been pleased to know.
My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the blogtour and for my review copy via Netgalley. The Book of Longings is published by Tinder Press and available now in paperback.
About the Author
Sue Monk Kidd’s debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, spent more than one hundred weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, has sold more than six million copies in the United States, was turned into both an award-winning major motion picture and a musical, and has been translated into thirty-six languages. Her second novel, The Mermaid Chair, was a number one New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a television movie. The Invention of Wings, Kidd’s third novel, was an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 pick, and also a number one New York Times bestseller.
She is the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, her groundbreaking work on religion and feminism, as well as the New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. She lives in North Carolina.