I love Sue Monk Kidd. I love her partly because she wrote her astonishing first novel (The Secret Life of Bees) at 48 (before that she was a nurse), but also because she writes in a way that I find constantly and profoundly moving.
This novel is about Ana, the fictitious wife of Jesus. The author has no particular reason to believe that Jesus was married, other than that it was deeply uncommon, shameful even, not to be for a man of his time. The absence of a wife would have been more noteworthy than her presence. Also, she highlights the fact that women were largely invisible and voiceless in biblical times – the fact that we have never heard of her can therefor hardly provide conclusive proof that a wife of Jesus did not exist. (I have been interested to observe how distasteful this idea seems to be to Christians of both genders. Somehow the possibility that Jesus may have been married renders him less holy, less divine and even repugnant somehow. Misogyny is alive and well!)
Ana is unusual, especially for her time. She is a brilliant and defiant young woman, a prolific writer with an insatiable desire to learn and to record the narratives of abused and silenced women. (“When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”) Despite her status as the privileged only child of wealthy family, her passions make her an oddity and undesirable as a wife and so they are actively discouraged. Her father has ordered her betrothal to a malignant and mean spirited widower when an illicit excursion, born of her rebellious nature, leads to a chance encounter with the 18 year old Jesus. He is a lowly carpenter and a deeply undesirable son in law to her father.
This story is a profound tragedy, buoyed up somehow by an abiding sense of passion and purpose. It is intensely beautiful, perfectly crafted, meticulously researched. I was fascinated and grateful to read about deeply familiar historical events from a very female perspective. Everything about it was familiar and yet staggeringly different. Jesus is shown to be an outcast, a deeply compassionate rebel, a revolutionary activist for the poor and the marginalized. Despite his tenderness to Ana and his comprehension of the profound passions that drive her, there is nothing meek or mild about him. He is precisely what I wish him to be.
The character I am most drawn to is Ana’s aunt Yaltha. She is tough, sinewy, resilient and irreverent and is Ana’s most constant support and mentor. Everyone needs an Aunt Yaltha. Her wisdom and her generosity of spirit make me want to weep:
“Do you remember the day in Sepphoris when you opened your cedar chest and showed me your writings for the first time? You were something to be reckoned with. Fourteen years old and full of rebellion and longings. You were the most stubborn, determined, ambitious child I had ever seen. When I saw what was inside your chest I knew. I knew that there was a largeness in you. I knew you possessed a generosity of abilities that comes only rarely into the world. You knew it too for you wrote of it in your bowl. But we all have some largeness in us, don’t we Ana? What most sets you apart is the spirit in you that rebels and persists. It isn’t the largeness in you that matters most, it’s your passion to bring it forth. …. My own largeness has been to bless yours.”
“Oh Ana, Ana, 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 that you will be well in spite of it. All shall be well no matter what…..If Antipas kills him you will be devastated and grief stricken but there is a place in you that is inviolate – it’s the surest part of you, a piece of Sophia herself. You will find your way there when you need to. And you will know then what I speak of.”
Please read this book – it is without doubt my best read of 2020.
I love books! After all, “Reading is like breathing in and writing is like breathing out.” Pam AllynSo I am excited and proud to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Vrye Weekblad (https://www.vryeweekblad.com/
), which I have admired since my student days, to write some of their book reviews. Previously published in the Vrye Weekblad in Afrikaans.