I think the first and most important thing for me to tell you is that I LOVE Sue Monk Kidd. I love everything I’ve read by her (fiction and non-fiction). She’s my comfort author. I still remember where I was sitting when I finished the Secret Life of Bees and how I felt for days after I finished it – longing for just one more chapter. So, when I heard that she was writing a story about the fictional wife of Jesus, I was both thrilled and terrified.
I’ve been in ministry for nearly 20 years and have been a worship pastor for at least half of that time. I love Jesus. I was worried that this book would feel at least a tad sacrilegious or disrespectful. Instead, I found it to be so very lovely and rich and comforting. I listened to a podcast with Sue Monk Kidd (I think it was an episode of Brené Brown’s new podcast – which is fabulous, by the way!) where she said that she had done over a year of research before even beginning this book (might have been more than that, I don’t remember). Well, her research really showed in the details she included and the scenes she was able to paint so beautifully with her words. I think that’s what I love the most about Sue Monk Kidd. She writes so poetically and thoughtfully that I feel like I’m IN the pages with her, experiencing it all first hand.
This story isn’t really about Jesus, although he’s definitely an important character in it. It’s about Ana. It’s about Ana and Yaltha and Chaya and Mary and Salome and Tabitha and Susanna and Diodora and Mary and Martha. It’s about the women. It’s about their passion and their strength. It’s about their faith and their hope for the future. It’s about how they learned to honor the people that God intended them to be, even in the midst of impossible circumstances. It’s about how they took care of the people around them while learning how to find joy and purpose in their own journey.
There are a few scenes in this book, based on familiar stories from the Bible, that made the Jesus story come alive in me in a way it never has before. It’s almost as if the story of Jesus jumped off the pages of the Bible and became more vibrant and almost tangible. There are some stunning twists and turns in this novel that I wasn’t expecting – some that literally took my breath away. I had to pause the book more than once to linger on the story because it was just that beautiful.
About half of this book I listened to on Audible while doing all the laundry and I have to say that listening to it brought even more life to it than just reading it. It took longer – because I’m a super fast reader – but I think it was totally worth it. I’m not a huge reader of fiction – I might read 2 a year, while I consume non-fiction books and memoirs at a much more consistent and quick pace. But I always make space for Sue Monk Kidd’s novels. I can’t decide if it’s her style of writing, her imaginative settings, her love and care for her characters, or simply the stories that always seem to stay with me – perhaps it’s the combination of all of it. I’m pretty particular about skill of writing in the fiction stories that I read and Sue Monk Kidd is, in my opinion, absolutely one of the most lovely writers I’ve read.
Out of all of her novels, this is my favorite so far. Which is impressive, because I still, after many years, think about the Secret Life of Bees. I imagine that this one might linger in my heart for even longer than that one did. I also have to say that her memoir that she wrote with her daughter, Traveling with Pomegranates, is one of my favorite memoirs as well. It also stayed with me and I think about it from time to time.
My favorite Quotables from The Book of Longings:
“It does the world no good to return evil for evil. I try now to return good to them instead.” – p. 123
“Why should we contain God any longer in our poor and narrow conceptions, which are so often no more than grandiose reflections of ourselves? Let us set him free.” – p. 124
“I think every pain in this world wants to be witnessed.” – p. 173
“Of all the emotions, Hope was the most mysterious. It grew like the blue lotus, snaking up from muddy hearts, beautiful while it lasted.” – p. 268
“When I tell you all shall be well, I don’t mean that life won’t bring you tragedy. Life will be life. I only mean you will be well in spite of it. All shall be well, no matter what.” – pg 276
“Anger is effortless. Kindness is hard. Try to exert yourself. – p. 334
“Don’t look away. Terrible things will happen now. Unbearable things. Bear it anyway.” – p. 376