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My reread of The Secret Lives of Bees (2002) disclosed the healing power of the Sacred Feminine. Its author Sue Monk Kidd displayed unusual artistry in fashioning this riveting story, its worldwide appeal galvanizing hearts.

Secrets abound, not only within the darkness of the beehives, but also within the inner worlds of the characters, given to dreams, musings, writing, and spirited imaginations. Multi-layered symbols also abound—orphan, mother, bees, death—their auras intermingling with shuddery feelings, with breathlessness. The ensuing images, enfleshed in precise words, fired the imagination of this reader.

Note: Above each chapter, headings of honeybee behaviors mirrored the story as it unfolded.

Enter the droll narrator, fourteen-year-old Lily Owens, with black hair that flies in many directions, living on a peach farm with her widower father in a bigoted South Carolina town. It was summer, 1964, hot with racism. Attuned to hunches, Lily sought resolution of her secret and found her way to a bee-keeping farm in the next town.

There, Lily met the Boatwright sisters whose large-bosomed blackness mothered her through grief. Their eclectic devotions to Our Lady of Chains, the ancient figurehead from a ship’s mast honored in their living room, also opened Lily to the Sacred Feminine “… hidden everywhere. Her heart a red cup of fierceness tucked among ordinary things.” From her, Lily drew courage, “not just to love, but to persist in love” for her orphaned psyche and those around her.

The Secret Lives of Bees continues enriching imaginations with Eros, sorely needed today, to heal poisonous fissures sickening planet Earth as well as those in our own hearts. We but need to ask, humbly…

“A man’s holy of holies contains God’s law, but inside a woman’s there are only longings…Write what’s inside here, inside your holy of holies.” So said the wise Yaltha as she tapped her niece’s heart, the fourteen-year-old Ana, literate in Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. It is her story that Sue Monk Kidd develops in the novel The Book of Longings (2020), set in first-century Palestine and Egypt.

But such a story it is, the fruit of nineteen years of rumination and composition: Ana as wife and spiritual companion to Jesus of Nazareth; it shimmers with authenticity. Kidd’s meticulous research fleshed out this relationship in broad strokes, allowing readers ample room to internalize this possibility, given that no extant scriptural texts, canonical or non-canonical, speak of Jesus, married or single.

Of course, Jesus would be taken by Ana during their chance meeting at the Sepphoris market. She was already living the selfless love he would articulate later to his followers as the Kingdom of God.

A life-long devotee of Sophia, Ana’s spirit remained ever mindful of her largeness as woman, as scribe of feminine mysteries. From these depths streamed words she inked upon papyrus and bound in codices. Never did she flinch from hardship or abuse intended to silence her tongue or reed pen. With purpose, her sanded feet flew along dusty roads toward experiences that deepened her engagement with life.

Kidd’s novel is also to be relished for its precise language of the seasons’ varied moods. Fresh figures of speech activate the senses and afford believability and immediacy to this captivating world of persons emerging from the pages of the Gospels.

The joy of companioning Ana in The Book of Longings left unparalleled sweetness—a book to savor.

 

 

Yet another historical novel has emerged from the rubble of World War II: this time, The Paris Orphan (2019) by the Australian Natasha Lester. Featured therein is the plight of the first women photojournalists covering front line battles in Italy and France, to the pique of their male counterparts.

Like the protagonist Jessica May’s sensitivity to word and photo, the author weaves a compelling story. Of note is the balance struck between Jessica and Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hallworth, set against the atrocities of war; neither story overpowers the other. The inclusion of unexpected humor, from poignant to tender to gallows, together with the plot’s switchbacks makes this work. Even more compelling is her use of the dual timeline that fleshes out relationships, both authentic and sinister.

Names of real people, of memorable battle scenes, of old-world chateaux, of clothing, of Lucky Strikes, of language, attest to Lester’s research. She drew her Jessica after Lee Miller, a Vogue model-turned-war-correspondent, of considerable talent, during World War II. Martha Gelhorn, one of Hemingway’s wives, also palled with Jessica, making light of the filth that clung to them for days, sorrowing over the dead and maimed bodies in field hospitals and upon battlefields.

Critical to these women was reporting their impressions of this shocking world to their readers, never mind how male censors would alter their work before wiring them to newspapers. In no way could their male co-workers produce such photos and stories, and they knew it. It was their compassion. Thus the rub—

 

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