The Book of Longings: A Novel

by Sue Monk Kidd

Hardcover, 2020




Viking (2020), Edition: First Edition, 432 pages


Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:â??An extraordinary novel . . . a triumph of insight and storytelling.â?ť â??Associated Press â??A true masterpiece.â?ť â??Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed An extraordinary story set in the first century about a woman who finds her voice and her destiny, from the celebrated number one New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything. Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history. Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus's life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable account of one woman's bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place and culture devised to silence her. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the hei… (more)


½ (314 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I read a solid third of this novel, then couldn't continue. I found the concept of a feminist, suppressed young woman marrying Jesus too contrived.
LibraryThing member DubaiReader
This is a must-read book, whatever your religious views.
Our book group chose this book simply because we'd all enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees, one of my all time favourite books. I hadn't actually realised that it was a fictional account of the life of Jesus and that did make me pause, but it had
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been chosen, so I got stuck into the audiobook. After a bit of a slow start I started to appreciate the author's penmanship and the narrator's excellent contribution and began to realise that this was going to be a five star book that I never wanted to finish.

The central character is Ana and we meet her long before she meets Jesus. She's the daughter of a wealthy family, but is offered in marriage in an arrangement that will be advantageous to her ambitious father. She is only fourteen and her betrothed is much older than her, she is understandably disgusted at the prospect. No matter how she rails against the match, however, it seems there is nothing she can do to prevent it.

She meets Jesus by chance in the market and is drawn to him. She contrives to bump into him, especially while he is in the hills for prayer. These meetings are illicit as she is already betrothed... I have got myself into a corner here, so to avoid spoilers I will jump ahead!

The marriage between Ana and Jesus is a match of equals, they both respect each other's opinions and give each other space to be themselves. Jesus is searching for his calling and Ana does not attempt to stop him from following his heart. Their life in Galilee is a far cry from Ana's wealthy upbringing but she copes well, once she is taught how to do things like milk the goat and bake bread.

Throughout all this, Ana has her devoted aunt, Yaltha, who has sadness and secrets of her own. Ana also has a brother, Judas, adopted into the family, but impetuous and opinionated. He rails against the Romans and fights his own battles, which will surely lead him into trouble.

This is a story of a strong woman, educated and motivated to set her life story onto parchment. She is surrounded by some amazing characters, some from the bible, others fictitious. The combination works well and resulted in an excellent book club discussion. We were fortunate to have a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim in the discussion and it brought out some fascinating background to the book. One criticism was that the narrative did have a bit of a modern twist and I think I would support that view, although it didn't make me want to drop my star rating. As a group we rarely agree on the final ratings for a book, but this was unanimously between 4 and 5.

Highly recommended.

I would also mention a somewhat similar book, which centres around the life of Mohammed's (pbuh) first wife and which gave me an interesting background into the origins of the Muslim faith: Mother of the Believers by Kamran Pasha
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is, simply put, a gorgeous story. It takes a very real, long-held idea that Jesus had a wife and imagines who that woman could be. Except, this is not a story of Jesus' wife. It is the story of a formidable woman in her own right, stymied by religious and
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societal customs and longing for a different way of life in her own right.

The Book of Longings has an added benefit of showing Jesus as very few stories do, as a man rather than a profit, as someone who worries about money and providing for his family, someone in love. It is also a respectful portrayal, showing a man increasingly burdened by his overwhelming faith and need to help those less fortunate than he. In fact, Ms. Kidd's version of Jesus is so believable and so gentle that it made me sort of fall in love with him and definitely made me rethink everything we supposedly know about the man and the myth.

While we certainly get an imagined glimpse into Jesus and Judas' lives, the story is all Ana's. Born to a prominent, a.k.a. privileged Jewish family, her father allows her the rare opportunity to learn to read and write. She uses her hard-won talents to record the women's stories, providing them with a voice to share their histories, no matter how horrific. Along the way, she refuses to submit to the status quo. Is it any wonder she catches the eye of Jesus?

The Book of Longings captured my attention from the very first. Ana is so fierce, but she also chooses her battles. She might not be the most intelligent character you will meet, but she is loyal and, more importantly, determined to make a difference for her gender. Spanning the geographical region of Jerusalem as well as ancient Alexandria, Ms. Kidd's lush prose makes the era come to life in a more realistic way than any documentary. The entire novel is a profound story of hope and belief among suffering most of us can only imagine. The Book of Longings will be among my top reads for 2020.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Book of Longings, Sue Monk Kidd, author, Mozhan Marno, narrator
My first thought after reading the opening paragraphs, was why? Why write a book about Jesus’ imaginary wife? What purpose could it serve to change his image from a celibate, from a loving, spiritual guide to a mere mortal, a man
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subject to the needs of the body as well as of the mind and the heart? Personally, I prefer the version of Jesus as an exalted representative of G-d, but perhaps, as a Jew, it is not my place to pass judgment on such a choice. The author researched the book for years before she put pen to paper and wrote it. There were things I thought she should have included if she re-imagined his life. For instance, if Jesus was to be prone to human desire, why did Kidd not also include, and justify, some discussion about priests and nuns being more prone to human needs. Surely, to my way of thinking, historically, they chose to be celibate, because of his teachings. So if he was more subject to human frailty, why did she not make them more human, as well?
We know that Jesus was a Jew, a Jew who was very obviously disappointed with the practices of the people of his time, and in particular, disappointed with the ways of his own people. The greed and inequality he saw, all around him, infuriated him. He came from a modest family, unlike his imaginary wife, Ana, daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Antipas. Her family had great wealth and slaves. The class divide between them was enormous. Theirs was not a match made in heaven, but made possible instead by the death of Ana’s betrothed. Still, it was love that first brought them together.
In brief, the story is about Ana and Jesus Ben Joseph of Nazareth. Ana fancied herself a scribe, like her father, not a homemaker. Her father worked for Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who wanted to be King. Her father was primarily interested in advancing the cause of Antipas to advance himself. He did it at the expense of others. Her mother disliked Ana, who was headstrong. Her mother disagreed with her father who incongruously, had allowed Ana to learn to read and write, an opportunity not considered necessary or afforded to females in those days. In Ana’s writings she documents the value of women in Jewish lore. In the tradition of modern writers, both Kidd and Ana are championing the cause of women’s rights by pointing to the autocracy of males who dominated all forms of life and made all the rules governing women. Women were chattel.
Ana was baptized by John, the Immerser, and she began to follow his teachings. Then Jesus decided to follow John, too, and, then, to eventually replace him. Her adopted brother, Judas, actually a cousin in this re-imagined version of the life of Jesus, was the very same Judas, who betrayed Jesus. He, too, railed against materialism and greed, but was more of a zealot, often losing his temper. His last dinner with Jesus was a Passover Seder which is established historically. Another thing we know is that Judas was responsible for the capture of Jesus, but we do not know for certain who ordered the crucifixion?
The Jews believed Jesus would free them from the yoke of the Romans. Antipas worked with the Romans and wanted to be King. Jesus was called King of the Jews. Pilot knew that the Jewish messiah was said to overthrow Rome. So, both felt threatened by Jesus, because he declared himself the Messiah. So, while I have been taught that it was the Romans who gave the choice to the Jews, to choose the victim who was to be crucified, putting them in an untenable position, the book makes one wonder if it was not the
Temple guards who brought Jesus to Pilot who were responsible. Near the end of the book, with the guards assisting Ana’s uncle Haran in his quest for vengeance against her aunt and herself, the reader might also get the idea that the Jews, not the Romans, were calling the shots and had far more influence at that time. Has Kidd subtly encouraged that disastrous rhetoric about Jews killing Jesus to rise again, even if unwittingly?
I found the novel engaging in theory, but was disappointed in the very negative portrayal of Jews. Ana’s father is described as a wealthy Jew looking out only for himself. He would sell his daughter to advance his dynasty. Her uncle Haran was described as cold-hearted, selfish and vindictive who would sell his niece to punish his sister. Antipas was described as a cruel tetrarch who wanted only to be king of the Jews by any means possible. Tabitha’s parents believed in the barbaric mutilation of their child as a punishment for what they perceived as their shame, and others were described as materialistic and self-righteous. Overall the Jews are portrayed as somewhat arrogant, heinous, greedy, devious people who used and took advantage of those beneath them at every opportunity, as they advanced themselves.
The era of Jesus was a time when women had few rights, it was a time when men were deemed far more worthy than women, it was a time when patriarchs were in charge, it was a time when slavery existed, and it was a time when daughters could be sold to the highest bidder. It was a time when some of the rules were really very barbaric, and it was a time when the Romans ruled, but a reader might be hard pressed to believe that anyone but the Jews were in control, after reading this novel.
The author has written a treatise on the rights of women, or lack thereof, in ancient times, and perhaps insinuating today, as well. At one point in the dialogue of the book, Jesus comforts Ana and says that “G-d is like a mother hen, she will gather us”. It clearly indicates Kidd’s desire to include females in her narrative, possibly even elevating them to an even greater stature than males.
Perhaps I look too deeply, but I found the book hard to read and only finished it because Kidd is a gifted writer who tells a good story. I found the book a little too melodramatic, too emotional, and too filled with platitudes, but that is a fault I find with many female authors. Their feelings often overcome their intellect in their writings. Their political beliefs take center stage as an underlying motive for their books as become their Speakers’ Corners.
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LibraryThing member Nancyjcbs
I so wish I could give this book a better review. The premise is a great one: what if Jesus had been married? What would their marriage be like?

The writing is beautiful and the time/setting 20-60 AD in Galilee and Egypt is brought to life. I would have been happy to read about a woman living on the
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margins in that time and place. But my issues had to do with Ana's behavior and what felt like the dropping of biblical references in the middle of the stories. Ana and Jesus are traveling to Jerusalem as their religion dictates. Look - on the path a Samaritan! And a good one of course. Where should they stay as they travel? It just so happens that Lazarus, Mary and Martha live nearby. Besides these examples Jesus' and Ana's conversations are riddled with Gospel lessons.

Ana is the heroine of the story and the novel is completely centered on her life. Ana is a rebel and is persistent. I admire these traits in a woman. But her goals were often accomplished by manipulating her many admirers or others ranked lower than she. She is loved by so many but often uses others to achieve her desires.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Just like Diamant’s The Red Tent, this book helped me see women of the Old Testament as real people not backdrops. What makes this even more interesting is Judas Iscariot is her brother. Yes, I imagine there will be a hubbub about giving Jesus a wife, but it does not denigrate anything about
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Christ. It gives a voice to women at a time when they had no rights. Yes, it might be called revisionist history, but it is historical fiction and after all Jesus was known to champion women. I would love to see this as a discussion starter in an adult church school class. How would western culture be different if both men and women appreciated the others spirit and intellect?
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
Glad to see someone explore the possibility of Jesus being married. Ana is well suited as Jesus' wife. Didn't think the resurrection was handled well.
LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
Very uneven story for me - parts were very enjoyable, but others just dragged.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
This is the story of Ana, the wife of Jesus .... yes, that Jesus. And before you have an opinion on whether or not you have an opinion on whether or not a FICTIONAL story of Jesus having a wife is sacrilegious, let me say that Jesus plays a pretty small role in this story. The story really revolves
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around Ana and the other women in her life. The genius behind this story is how you feel immersed in the life and limited choices of women during this time. There is heartache and tragedy but so beautifully depicted.
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LibraryThing member andsoitgoes
Tried to do the audio book version of this story and between the coma-like delivery of the narrator and the story itself, I gave up half way through.
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Ana and her brother Judas were raised in a wealthy family in Galilee. When Ana meets a worker - Jesus - she is instantly enamored with him. However, her parents have engaged her to marry a much older man. On the eve of her wedding the older man is struck ill and dies. Ana, now considered a widow,
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has few, if any, prospects. When she is almost stoned in the village, Jesus steps in and saves her. The two are married shortly afterwards.

I am an atheist, I was a bit hesitant about reading this book however, I was instantly drawn in to the story. The book was not preachy, was not religious, instead it was just a well written, engaging story. I would love to read more from this author. Overall, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member GrandmaCootie
What a story this is. The story of a woman who might have been Jesus’ wife, spanning the time shortly before he begins his mission to his death. A surprising story. Not a story about the type of woman we might expect to be Jesus’ wife, not his Little Helper, quiet, devout, always by his side,
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deferring to him, acquiescing to his every wish. Instead it’s the story of a strong woman with a voice that will not be silenced who makes her own path, finds her destiny and satisfies her longings. It’s a story about her everyday relationship with him and her influence on him, and His influence on her and His understanding of the unique person she was.

Ana is very much her own person and always has been. Her background and personality are nothing like that of Jesus. She comes from wealth and privilege, isn’t always a nice person, is often selfish and self-centered. In other words, often human She isn’t necessarily a believer either, but her love for Jesus is deep. It came over her the first time she saw him and never wavers.

We don’t know that Jesus had a wife, but we don’t know that he didn’t either, since the Bible doesn’t tell us much about those years. Author Sue Monk Kidd flawlessly weaves the “what if’s” with what we already know of Jesus’ life and presents a story that is completely plausible and believable, and completely mesmerizing, filled with characters that could have been part of history. Her parents, her aunt Yaltha, her friend Tabitha, and her brother Judas – that Judas – all come alive. As does the human Jesus, leading an everyday life as a husband, brother and son, while being drawn to a higher purpose.

Women were meant to be silent and obedient in this time and place. Wealth, privilege, or association with a powerful ruler did not exempt you from danger. Again, author Kidd weaves in facts about known historical figures with events and consequences in the lives of Ana and her friends and relatives.

The Book of Longings is extraordinary, touching, thought-provoking and a very enjoyable read. I received an advance copy from publisher Random House. All opinions are my own. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it without hesitation.
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LibraryThing member mcorbink
Well developed characters, very interesting concept (Ana is Jesus' wife, yes, Jesus of Nazareth). The book is a well written novel highlighting the trials of women back in early history. The bonds they form are strong, lasting and necessary.
LibraryThing member fredreeca
Ana is a young woman engaged to be married to an older widower. She is horrified at the prospect. She wants to be a scholar. However, this is not an option for her. She meets Jesus one day and is captivated by his charm and kindness. This changes her stars but it is a process with some damage along
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the way.

There is so much encompassed in this novel. What captured my attention more than most was Ana’s plight. The struggle women went through just to survive and not be considered cattle.

Talk about a fabulous historical fiction tale! Sometimes authors try too hard when it comes to the subject of Jesus. Most authors try to make it about religion and beliefs. Not this author! She captured the love of Jesus. She also nailed the time period and the landscape as well. I felt like I was right there in the story!

Since I was behind in my reviews, I decided to get this with one of my audible credits. The narrator, Mozhan Marno is fantastic. The perfect inflection and right amount of attitude when needed!

Need a good story which will take you away….THIS IS IT! Grab your copy today!
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LibraryThing member bookczuk
Really enjoyed reading this, not just for the story and the writing, but the things I learned about the world at that time. Pandemic read.
LibraryThing member Smits
Sue monk Kidd is such a wonderful writer. Her novels flow so easily. “ The Book of Longings”, The story of Ana, who marries Jesus, is rich in historical detail to the point where I believed that something like this could have been true. Her extensive historical, cultural, political and
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religious research defines this novel as a question”Could Jesus have been married? what would his life have been like as a young man”? Very interesting and thought provoking questions from a very interesting work of fiction.
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LibraryThing member MichaelK12345
Fantastic story set in the timeline of Jesus. Heartbreaking and very fast pace.
LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
What a beautiful imagining of the type of relationship that could have been if the prophet Jesus had married. This is, as clearly articulated by the author, a work of fiction - but the depth of research and the clear respect for the historical characters and the beliefs they held made it a rich and
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rewarding reading experience. Some of my very favorite works are those in which a woman is, finally, given a voice, and Sue Monk Kidd is a master at that very type of fiction. I loved Ana's story, and I'm glad she was given a voice.
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LibraryThing member ZeljanaMaricFerli
How do you write a book that offers a different perspective on a man and the myth that is so central for so many people on this planet? Before reading this book I thought that writing a book about the wife of Jesus was ambitious, but at the same time seemed like a cheap trick that surely brings a
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lot of free PR.
I have to say this book was excellent. It managed to be respectful to the cultural memory (and imagination) of Jesus and his life while giving us an account of this complex character of his fictional wife who was an extraordinary woman deserving a story of her own. Sue Monk Kidd crafted the plot in a way that the events we know from the Bible happen without much interference.
Even without the whole Jesus reference, I thought this was an interesting book about perseverance, commitment, friendship and passion for doing what we believe we are meant to be doing. Of course, love is such a strong theme in this book, in its many forms and each one was dealt with well.
Ana is not a perfectly written character. She is slightly anachronistic in her views. She also always seems to think she's right and somehow everyone ends up doing what she wants. Also, I found it hard to believe that the male characters she was dealing with would be so tolerant of a woman in her position. I could suspend the disbelief, though, because it was just so well written and I wanted to cheer for Ana. I grew to like her character, which doesn't happen to me very often at all.
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LibraryThing member clp412
4.5 stars. This is a beautiful novel about women and specifically Ana's story. This book was respectful of Jesus and any Christian beliefs while creating a strong woman that was ahead of her time. This book focused on Ana and portrayed Jesus as a loving son and husband without taking away from his
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stories in the bible. I loved the writing, the time period and the characters.
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LibraryThing member Anniik
Good book. Beautifully written and sad. It dragged in places, but overall a very good book.
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
The contributions and lives of women are often overlooked. The Bible names very few women compared to men. Even in the begats (Genesis tracing the lineage from Adam to Noah), women are marginalized, as if they had no bearing on the birth of this string of men. Of course they aren't completely
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erased; there are a few women named in the Bible. Ruth even has her own book. But there is certainly far less about the women and their lives than there is about the men. What if that wasn't true? What would the Biblical world have looked like from a woman of the times' perspective? What would it have been like to be a woman close to Jesus? What, in fact, if Jesus had had a wife? What would she have been like? Sue Monk Kidd imagines this very scenario for her novel, The Book of Longings, not only giving Jesus a wife but giving that wife a voice, a story, and a perspective of her own.

Ana is 14 and from a respected family when she first sees the kind and compassionate Jesus ben Joseph in the marketplace. She is intrigued by him even as she is destined to be given in marriage elsewhere. But Ana is not a compliant daughter and is ultimately forsaken by her father, resulting in her marriage to Jesus. She finds a very different life with his family, especially as he starts leaving for longer and longer periods of time.

There is, of course, no doubt about where this story will end up, even if Jesus and his divinity is not the center of it. Ana and the women around her really take center stage in the novel. Kidd has done a good job of researching what life would have been like for women in the first century, although Ana does occasionally come off as anachronistic in her beliefs, actions, and demands. Even so, her desire to have a voice and tell her own story for posterity is a thrilling one that helps drive the narrative, especially as it slows down through the middle of the novel. Obviously this is a very different take on Jesus, his life, and his miracles than the Bible. Ana, narrating the story herself, presents him as wholly human with the failures and blind spots that all humans have. The writing is well done and the story is an interesting take for sure but I'm not sure, in the end, it was entirely successful.
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LibraryThing member Jacsun
The book begins with Ana at 14 years old that gets married to Jesus at 18 years. I was concerned that it may be too religious but it was more of a historical look on what may have happened. That's what kept my interest. The author did an incredible amount of research to write this book which was
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LibraryThing member KallieGrace
This took some warming up to, starting with the years it took me to even read it. Now that I'm finished I'm actually a little shattered. I absolutely love the portrayal of Jesus as fully man. And the thing about women being excluded so completely from history that it's not even that far fetched to
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a story is really upsetting. I don't understand people saying that women wouldn't act like that back then, do they really think we used to be perfectly submissive and spiritless? The betrayal coming from her brother was also devastating.
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LibraryThing member Jim53
Kidd's novel is narrated by Ana, the wife of Jesus ben Joseph. Ana was raised in a rich household and allowed to learn to read and write. She is outspoken and eager to have a voice. One day in the market she meets a young man, whose humor and kindness attract her.
Both Ana and Jesus are well drawn,
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wonderful characters, as are Ana's aunt, Yaltha, her brother, Judas, and several others. We have sympathy for both of them as they deal with the daily matters of life in the first century, and as both grow into something much larger. Circumstances force them apart for long periods of time; they miss each other terribly but carry on with their separate missions. Kidd show each coming into better understandings of their god, their responses to the conditions of the world, and their meaningful destinies. Highly recommended!
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RUSA CODES Reading List (Read-alike to Winner — Historical Fiction — 2024)


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Physical description

432 p.; 9.59 inches


052542976X / 9780525429760
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