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The Book Of Longings: A Novel

|April 21, 2020

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“An extraordinary novel . . . a triumph of insight and storytelling.” — Associated Press “ A true masterpiece. ” —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…

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Book Club Conversation Starters

Though fictional, The Book of Longings is also a deeply researched account of life two thousand years ago. What rules and customs surprised you? Which parts of the story feel especially relevant to modern-day life? Did you identify with Ana in any way?
What role does Ana’s incantation bowl play in her quest to realize her longing? What is the importance of ritualizing one’s faith or longings? If you were given an incantation bowl in which to inscribe your deepest longing, what might you write?
Ana’s aunt Yaltha is described as being as tough, clever, defiant, and daring as she is nurturing. What do you think is Yaltha’s most profound influence on Ana? Has there been anyone in your life like Yaltha? How do you think you have been shaped by the older women in your life?
Discuss the relationship between Ana and Jesus. Were there moments they shared in the story that particularly resonated with you? What compromises did Ana make within the marriage? What does it mean to “belong” to someone? What does it mean to belong to oneself?
The Book of Longings renders Jesus in a way that foregrounds his humanity. Did the novel change your perception of his character and his life on earth or enhance your existing idea of him in some way?
Sue Monk Kidd has explored feminist theology for years, along with what she calls “the missing feminine within religion,” which eventually finds expression through the character of Ana. What do you think about the relationship between feminism and religious belief? In what ways can feminism become a spiritual quest?
When Ana is confronting motherhood and the choice to bear children, Yaltha tells her, “I don’t doubt you should give yourself to motherhood. I only question what it is you’re meant to mother” (page 196). How much do you think the idea that a woman’s purpose is fulfilled by having children persists today? Are women’s creative ambitions outside of the family still viewed as less fundamentally fulfilling somehow? Has motherhood impacted your passions and pursuits?
Kidd revisits a theme she first wrote about in The Secret Life of Bees: finding a family where one least expects. Discuss the ways that Ana, Yaltha, Tabitha, and Diodora come together to form a family after Jesus’s death. In what ways do the Therapeutae become Ana’s place of belonging?
At the end of the novel, Ana ponders why Jesus’s followers have removed her from the story of his life: “Was it because I was absent when he traveled about Galilee during his ministry? Was it because women were so often invisible? Did they believe making him celibate rendered him more spiritual?” (page 407). Why do you think Ana would have been silenced and erased?
Over the course of Ana’s journey, The Book of Longings returns to the idea of the largeness within people. How do you conceive of your own largeness? What inspires it? What inhibits it? Do you agree with Yaltha that “it isn’t the largeness in you that matters most, it’s your passion to bring it forth” (page 353)?

Book Club Conversation starters