Having read and enjoyed other books by Sue Monk Kidd, I picked The Book of Longingsoff the library shelf, without looking beyond the title and author. When I began to read I was surprised by the opening sentences. ‘I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth’.
Like Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, which I recently read and reviewed, this is an imaginative novel set in the 1st century AD (CE). Sue Monk Kidd has invented a person Ana, and filled in the missing gaps in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, which are not mentioned in the Bible. Christian tradition is that Jesus did not marry, but I found the story gripping and well researched. I read all 418 pages of the book in two days!
The phrase ‘beneath the tamarisk tree’ appears in The Book of Longings. Sue Monk Kidd writes to show the plight of women in society. Ana longs for a voice and finds hers through writing. All the characters are portrayed vividly as individuals. The various strata of society from rulers to poor people all feature. There are also people from different places, with different beliefs. It is a very thought-provoking book. Sue Monk Kidd has treated her subject matter in a sensitive manner. Some biblical characters have been given backgrounds, which perhaps differ from the traditional views of them. Her Salome is a sister of Jesus. I deduced that the Salome at the cross was the mother of James and John. The Bible does not spell this out.
A Question and Answer section with the author is included at the end.
The Book of Longings is available in various formats including as an audiobook. (I read the paperback edition.)
This post is the reaction of one of my friends to Rachel Yarworth’s book – Friend of God: The miraculous life of an ordinary person. My friend wrote this to me in an email late in the evening of the day I gave her a copy. I am very grateful to her for sharing this with me and suggesting that I might use it on my blog. Also thankful for so many answers to prayer.
I’ve started to read Friend of God and l have found it to be a delightful read. The narrative is gentle and the descriptions very vivid. It is written in a conversational style.
I have had many experiences like Rachel Yarworth’s.
I have gone to bed on many occasions with no idea about how on earth I was going to manage to do the next day or next few days.
Only this week I had three hospital appointments in one day and I just didn’t know how on earth I was going to manage. I remember earlier on in the week uttering a hurried, stressed out plea to God to somehow drag me through it.
I managed that day to get a walk for a full hour up at my special place before my first appointment that afternoon.
The gynaecologist told me that I didn’t need surgery.
At the next appointment the consultant told me that we didn’t need to do surgery just yet and perhaps other things could be done so that I wouldn’t need a new knee.
Miraculously I arrived in time to pick up my two sons from college.
It is a day that I look back on and had feared so much. Yet God took me to a green pasture land where the still waters flowed and my soul could be restored. Psalm 23:2-3
The orthopaedic surgeon knew that I’d been out for a walk, I was very muddy and somehow very proud of the messy state I was in. I told her where I’d been that day and I told her that I had been in no pain.
There are times when I have no idea how I’m going to manage to get through the day, I just leave it in God’s hands and trust him. He always comes through for me.
I really love this book.
My own review of Friend of God and links to other bloggers’ reviews is here.
I received a paperback copy of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree from the author, Rob Seabrook on the understanding that I would write an honest review.
Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is a novel set in Jerusalem in the time when Jesus of Nazareth was living as a man. The story jumps between times in the life of the person known as ‘the penitent thief’, who was crucified alongside Jesus. Rob Seabrook has imagined the kind of life that might have led to the thief being executed for theft. He also explores what the promise Jesus made, ‘today you will be with me in paradise’( Luke 23:43) might look like. It is a gripping story, which I finished reading the day after I received it.
As I was reading, the descriptive passages reminded me of the world-building of CS Lewis and George Macdonald. There is also a slight similarity with The Shack by William P Young in the way the Holy Spirit (in heaven) is portrayed.
Some of the ideas in the book may not match the beliefs of every reader, but Rob Seabrook is aware of this and mentions it in ‘A Note from the Author’ which precedes the novel.
There are questions at the end, ideal for reading groups, who might read a chapter and then meet to discuss it. More questions are available on the author’s website.
It is a book I shall probably read again at some time. There are many layers to appreciate in it.
Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is published by Malcolm Down Publishing. ISBN 978-1-915046-01-7
Rob Seabrook is doing a giveaway from 1st to 15th February 2023, offering 5 copies of the book or eBook to new subscribers to his email newsletter. The link to a simple entry form is here.
Interview with Rob Seabrook
As I was reading Beneath The Tamarisk Tree a few questions came into my mind. The first one was answered in the story. It was, How did growing children on the streets of Jerusalem obtain clothes to wear? The second question was, Have you ever been to Jerusalem and the Holy Land?
So far I have not travelled to the Holy Land, but it is certainly on my bucket list. I actually started writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree about 6 months before the first Covid lockdown, so by the time I realised it may have been useful to travel to see Jerusalem first hand, it became impossible. Having said that, the most useful would have been to visit Jerusalem in the first century, which was even more impossible!
So I had to rely on a lot of desk research, looking at maps and city plans, reading around the topic of what life in 1st century Judea may have been like. There was more information available on the Roman side of things, which helped with the scenes around the Crucifixion, but a lot less about the Jewish peoples. So I simply had to rely on my imagination to fill the gaps.
Your description of tamarisk trees is beautiful. Do any tamarisk trees grow in the UK? I can’t remember seeing one at Kew, but there are so many plants and trees there. Perhaps I haven’t visited in the flowering season.
Yes, they do. In fact I had a large one in the garden of the first house I bought in Oxfordshire. They also grow wild, especially along the south coast and in April and May you can often see the light pink fluffy flowers in full bloom. Since Beneath the Tamarisk Tree has been published, I have been given two saplings, which are both planted in my garden and are starting to flourish.
The penitent thief’s introduction to heaven was very gentle. Some people believe that purgatory comes before heaven. What do you think about that idea?
I spent quite a long time reading around the topic of eschatology – the theological study of what happens after we pass, our final destination and judgement. There are many theories, gleaned from some of the pointers that are contained in the Bible, and many people who will tell you that they know the answers.
The simple answer though is that we just don’t know, and won’t know until it happens to us and we get there. We simply have to trust in a loving, caring, kind and compassionate Father whose intention is not for us to suffer.
We know two things about the Penitent Thief – that he was a thief and that Jesus promised that he would be in Paradise. So in the story of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, I wanted to paint the picture of the Penitent Thief going through a process from one condition to the other. From a thief to being rescued. This must have involved redemption, repentance, confession, healing, forgiveness, receiving the Holy Spirit … all the things that we as believers can enjoy. However, in the thief’s case it probably happened all in one incredible instantaneous moment, all at once. But that would not have made for a great story, so I took a little artistic licence to lengthen the process, to allow for a little more explanation as well as drama.
For anyone interested in looking deeper into the topic, I would recommend further reading from some superb academic experts, like NT Wright, or the likes of Randy Alcorn whose book “Heaven” is a very accessible but thorough study.
I know very little about you, except that you have reviewed some of the same books as I have. Can you tell me and my readers a little about your faith journey, please?
I grew up in a very loving, but not a Christian, home. My teenage years were spent at a boarding school which involved Chapel services three or four times per week, which I always found quite a dry experience. But something must have gone in even if I did not realise it at the time.
When at University I was going out with a young lady who began to re-discover her faith, hanging out with Christian friends and attending the Christian Union and a local church in Oxford (St Aldates). So I had two choices really!
In fact, I started going along with her to meetings, meeting Christians and finding it increasingly of interest and relevance. After some procrastinating I made a commitment, and of course ended up marrying that special lady!
Since then we have been actively involved in local churches wherever we have lived, and our family have been always blessed by the church community.
A few years ago we felt called to extend our family by fostering children, which has opened up our lives and our home to support others. The reason for mentioning this is twofold – firstly, it is incredibly challenging to our faith, testing patience and needing every ounce of spiritual support going. Secondly it proved helpful when writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, as it gave me significant insight into the sort of behaviours displayed by traumatised children.
Thank you, Rob. That is all very informative. Are you working on a second book?
I am working on another novel, although it is a little different, moving away from the Biblical fiction genre. I am just starting on a story that will look to highlight the wonders there are in creation, through the eyes of a young man who is fascinated by the natural world. He may not be looking for meaning or seeking the Creator, but he finds it through encounters with some older and wiser people who show him there is more in creation than he first imagined. I am just at the point now of having completed much of the research and background reading, and am about to embark on the writing … the thought of starting it is quite daunting though!