NEW YORK – Sue Monk Kidd’s next novel is very much a work of fiction.
“The Book of Longings” is the fourth novel by the author known for such bestsellers as “The Secret Life of Bees” and “The Invention of Wings,” a 19th century slavery narrative that Oprah Winfrey chose for her book club. “The Book of Longings” is told from the point-of-view of a restless young woman from the Galilee region named Ana who meets Jesus when he’s 18 and eventually marries him. Kidd draws upon historical research, but Ana is entirely invented.
“I believe the aim of the novelist is not only to hold up a mirror to the world as it is but to imagine what’s possible,” Kidd told the Associated Press in a recent mail. “From the moment the idea of writing this novel struck me, I felt the importance of at least imagining a married Jesus. Doing so provokes a fascinating question: How would the Western world be different if Jesus had married and his wife had been included in his story?
“There are only speculative answers, but I think Christianity and the Western world would have had a somewhat different religious and cultural inheritance, especially when it came to the egalitarian roles of women, to celibacy, and so forth. Why imagine a woman married to Jesus? Because stories of possibility challenge us to create new realities.”
Viking announced Friday that Kidd’s new book, originally titled “Ana, the Wife of Jesus,” will be released April 28. Kidd has written about religion and spirituality in works including “Firstlight” and “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.”
The canonical Gospels make no reference to Jesus ever marrying, but scholars, conspiracists and fiction writers have long speculated he wed Mary Magdalene. Kidd said that her novel is, in part, a response to the marginalized status of women in the Bible.
“The invisibility and silencing of women were real things. In the Scriptures, women rarely have speaking parts, and they aren’t mentioned nearly as often as men,” she said. “It could even be argued that in the first century Jewish world of Galilee, marriage was so normative, it more or less went without saying. Typically undertaken at 20 (though sometimes up to age 30), marriage was a man’s civic, family and sacred duty. There are compelling reasons to support both sides of the argument. The matter is likely irresolvable.”
“All I know,” she added, “is that Ana wandered into my imagination, and I couldn’t ignore her.”
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