The Way

The Way

by Kristen Wolf


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The Way by Kristen Wolf

Anna is a fiery tomboy living in ancient Palestine whose androgynous appearance provokes ridicule from the people around her and doubt within her own heart. When tragedy strikes her family, and Anna's father—disguising her as a boy—sells her to a band of shepherds, she is captured by a mystical, secret society of women hiding in the desert. At first Anna is tempted to escape, but she soon finds that the sisterhood's teachings and healing abilities, wrapped in an ancient philosophy they call "The Way," have unleashed an unexpected power within her.

When danger befalls the caves in which the sisters have made their home, Anna embarks on a hazardous mission to preserve the wisdom of her mentors by proclaiming it among ordinary people. Her daring quest and newfound destiny reveal, at last, the full truth of her identity—a shocking revelation that will spark as much controversy as it does celebration..

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307717702
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 11/20/2012
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Kristen Wolf is a mother, writer, and filmmaker living in the Rocky Mountains. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Georgetown University and holds an M.A. in creative writing from Hollins University. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

A village on the outskirts of ancient Palestine—7 A.D.

“Be a good girl and cover your face,” her mother counseled.

Anna draped a shawl over her head and bound it halfway up her cheeks. She watched her mother arrange bowls of dates, cheese, and olives on a tray. She then placed a pitcher of milk among the bowls and capped it with a square of linen. As her mother did these things, her hands came to rest on her swollen belly then flew off, repeatedly, like frightened doves.

“Hurry to Grandfather and be home before morning meal,” she said. She lowered the tray into her seven-year-old’s waiting hands. She pulled back the camel skin hide that hung across the front door. Anna’s head brushed the underside of her mother’s belly as she slipped around her and stepped, blinking, into the light.

Early morning had bathed the village in its usual peach wash. Thirty or so dwellings huddled together as a liquid glow dripped down straw roofs and reddened clay walls.

Anna walked past the manger her father had built. Its thatched roof balanced sturdily on hand-carved wooden beams. Beneath, two cows and a small flock of goats sprawled about crunching mouthfuls of hay. When the smaller animals caught sight of the young girl, they nickered and trotted in pursuit. Anna clucked gently as they nibbled her elbows. Her father said goats were the most foolish creatures the Lord had created. But Anna found their antics and stubborn friendliness amusing. And she laughed at how their upper lips curled in pleasure whenever she scratched their chins.

In a few more steps, she came to her father’s workshop. Its door was closed. The glow of an oil lamp shone through its crooked window. Anna heard the familiar brush-brush of the pumice stone used to polish wood. Whatever her father was making, he was close to finishing. For the past month, he had been rising earlier than usual to work on a special project. He had said it was a secret, and would not tell anyone what it was, but the mere mention of it brought a glimmer to his eye.

Curious to know what could be making her father so happy, Anna felt tempted to peek inside his shop. But she knew he would not welcome her visit and did not wish to anger him.

As she went along, the goats kept at her. A few guinea hens soon joined. Anna gripped the tray and kept her eyes on the shifting surface of milk. She did not need to watch where she was going. She could navigate by smell. When the scent of goats and hay gave way to the heavier odor of wood smoke, it meant she was near the farmers’ houses where the women had stoked fires to bake bread. She heard the grunts of men loading their mules with supplies to take into the olive groves. The time of the harvest had come. Anna lowered her face deeper into her shawl and hurried past. Despite the familiarity of the routine, of lifting fabric to face, she hated the act of hiding herself. The tradition felt stifling—as though someone were standing on her chest.

Farther along, a light breeze cleared the scent of wood smoke and ushered in the spicier scent of olive leaves and earth. She had come to the clearing just before her grandfather’s house. If she were to look to the west, she would see the olive groves stitched across the hills like embroidery. Beyond those, stark in its isolation, stood the great old sycamore.

Anna steadied the tray on her knee and knocked.

“Come in!” a voice croaked.

The door gave with a moan. Anna’s sight faltered as it adjusted to the darkness. She smelled her grandfather. His scent was sharp and biting, like old metal.

“Where have you been?” he barked. He was seized by a torrent of wet coughs.

Anna knelt before the leathery man. She kept her gaze downward and arranged the bowls of food on the floor.

“Hurry up,” he wheezed.

She poured milk from the pitcher. She handed him the cup and watched his brown-spotted hand curl around it.

“Is that goat cheese again?” he asked, pointing a knotty finger.

“Yes, Grandfather,” she said, wincing at her mother’s mistake.

He knocked the bowl with the back of his hand, spraying bits across the floor. “How many times must I tell you?” he roared. “Do not bring goat cheese. It upsets my stomach!” He popped olives into his toothless mouth. He gummed the oily fruits as he watched his granddaughter crawl about cleaning up the mess. When he had finished eating, Anna stacked the empty bowls on the tray. She bowed and left without looking back.

Outside, she yanked down her shawl and sucked in a breath of fresh air. She had barely begun to exhale when a clod of camel dung pelted the door beside her head. Startled, she looked up and saw a pack of boys. They scampered to duck behind an empty cart. She heard their giggles and knew the attack would escalate. Frightened, she lifted the shawl about her face, gripped the tray, and dashed for the village.

The boys leapt at their fleeing target. Ben, the stub-nosed ringleader, and Daniel, Anna’s neighbor, hurled their usual insults. “Freak! Fool! Funny goat! Better keep running!”

Anna’s grandfather rushed outside and began yelling about the dung on his door. Terrified of the old man, the boys scattered, abandoning their prey.

Anna’s legs pumped with fury beneath her. She knew she could run faster than the boys, but there were more of them, and she did not want to risk being caught. When the roof of her house came into view, she slowed and let the shawl drop again from her face. She glanced over her shoulder but did not see her pursuers. She bent to catch her breath.

It was not the first time they had taunted her. Nor, she knew, would it be the last. Her mother told her the teasing arose from her unusual appearance.

“It is because you are a mixture,” she had said. “Of boy and girl.”

Anna had wondered at the strange classification. She did not feel like a mixture. She knew she was not a boy. Yet she did not feel entirely like a girl either. At least not like the ones in her village who kept silent and shadowed their mothers.

“Anna!” a voice cried from behind.

Anna spun and saw Zahra sitting in front of the well. She was leaning her humped back against the ring of stones and bracing her crooked leg along the ground. In truth, she looked more like a pile of plum-colored rags than an old woman.

When Anna drew near, Zahra’s hand shot from between the folds of her robe. She grabbed the girl and pulled her close. “What would he not eat today?” she cackled, her voice dry and graveled, like the grit left in windowsills after a sandstorm.

“Goat cheese,” Anna answered. She held up the bowl.

Zahra’s eyes focused intently on the food.

“But it is unclean,” Anna said. “It fell on the floor.”

Zahra smiled. Her pale gray eyes gleamed with a wolfish light. “Given where goat cheese comes from, your grandfather’s floor is the cleanest place it has been!” She chuckled and lifted the bowl to her lips.

Anna giggled at the old woman’s foolishness.

A farmer approached, hurrying toward the groves. As he passed, he spat into the folds of Zahra’s robe. She continued to eat, accustomed to the insult. Many of the villagers disliked the old woman. They said she was a heathen who spoke to animals and disparaged the Lord.

But if Zahra were so evil, Anna wondered, why did everyone call on her whenever someone was ill?

She remembered the day her neighbor, Daniel, had laid on his mat unable to breathe. When the priest who often visited their village could not restore the boy, Daniel’s father had called for Zahra. The old woman had shown up immediately, as if she had smelled illness on the wind. With strong, wrinkled hands, she had spread a minty balm across the boy’s chest and pressed her fingers into the narrow canals between his ribs. As she worked, she had spoken to him in a soft voice, asking questions and letting him speak.

Within hours Daniel was back outside playing with his friends.

Daniel’s father had run through the streets shouting thanks to the Lord for the miracle. He later slaughtered a goat in gratitude. But to Zahra he offered no recompense, as if her efforts had played no role in the resuscitation of his son.

Unlike most of the other villagers, Anna was fond of the old woman. She especially admired the way Zahra could imitate birdsongs—so true were her calls that the creatures would flock around her! Whenever they could find a secret moment, away from the villagers’ prying eyes, Zahra would help Anna learn to emulate the songs of wheatears, bee-eaters, tree creepers, ravens, and doves. Still, no matter how much she practiced, Anna could not lure the birds into responding as Zahra could.

The old woman swallowed the last of the cheese and lifted her face toward the sun. “Thank you, Great Mother,” she whispered.

Anna often heard Zahra speaking to her mother, which she thought odd since her mother could certainly no longer be living. But when Anna asked her about it, the old woman would only shake her head and say, “Knowledge given too early can be more deadly than poison.”

Fearing that she had been away too long, Anna looked back toward her house to see if her mother had come outside. When she turned, the sun’s rays glinted across her face.

The old woman gasped, then marveled, as she always did, at how Anna’s green eyes glimmered like rare jewels. How the masculine line of her jaw, set wide and solid, stood like bedrock beneath coppery cheeks. How the cascade of black curls spilled to her shoulders. How her lips swelled with the curves and fullness of fruit.

“Blessings be, you are a handsome child!” she said.

Anna’s chest puffed at the compliment. “That is what Mother says.”

“Your mother . . .” Zahra whispered, thoughtfully. “How is she?”

“She is weighed down like a camel with too big a load,” Anna replied.

The old woman chuckled. “You are as clever as you are handsome.” She gave Anna a gentle tap under her chin. Lowered her voice. “But we must pray that the child in your mother’s belly is even more handsome than you,” she said. “Otherwise, there will be much trouble in your house.” She winced at the thought. Then waved her hand as if to shoo a goat. “Go home,” she advised. “Your mother needs you.”

Anna pecked a kiss on each of the old woman’s cheeks and darted for home, kicking up a cloud behind her. Zahra remained still, thinking as the dust settled. She knew the child was special. She had read it across the stars at the hour of her birth. She had also foreseen that the girl’s destiny would somehow entwine with that of The Way, though she could not yet perceive how.

Zahra had therefore not been surprised when Anna’s mother had approached her, secretly, behind the great sycamore, to request that her daughter be taken to study the old ways.

“It is in her blood,” Anna’s mother had said. “Just as it was in my sister’s.” She gazed into the distant fields. Her eyes reddening. “But if you do not take her, Anna’s life will unfold without purpose or honor. And she will wind up as miserable as—” She choked on her last words, unable to say more.

Having known Anna’s mother since she was a child, Zahra had understood and agreed to fulfill the request—but only after Anna had matured enough to endure the hazardous journey. The delay, she had said, would enable her to arrange for the girl’s transport, which, given the tragic losses they had recently suffered, required extraordinary care.

Until then, Zahra promised she would watch over the child and do all she could to protect her. Just as she had once promised to safeguard the child’s mother.

As she remembered these things, the old woman closed her eyes. Knowing that her efforts would involve great risk, she asked for strength to fulfill her duty and, even more urgently, for time.

Anna peered around the hide hanging in the doorway of her house. Finding the front room empty, she snuck inside and busied herself tending the fire. Moments later, her mother slipped through the partition of goatskins that walled off her private living area. She had changed into a fresh blue robe.

Anna kept her eyes low, staring at the hem of her garment.

“Where have you been?” her mother asked.

“At Grandfather’s,” Anna said. “He threw cheese at me.”

Her mother tossed her a skeptical look. “And did you let the cheese go to waste?”

Anna shook her head. “Zahra ate it.”

Before she could hide it, a smile of approval swept across her mother’s face. Then, just as quickly, it disappeared. “Your father will be here soon,” she said. “See if the bread is ready.”

Anna went to the flat rock nestled in the coals. A thin disk of bread was baking, curling brown at the edges. She lifted it from the heat and set it on a linen cloth.

Her mother knelt slowly, negotiating her considerable weight.

Anna marveled at how big her belly had grown. “Mother,” she asked, “how will the baby get out?”

“He will find a secret passageway. Just like you did, my little dove.”

Anna nestled close to her mother, bending until she could lay her head in her lap. Gazing up, she relished her beauty—her dark eyes flecked with hints of olive, her long onyx curls framing cinnamon-dusted cheeks, her neck curving gently as a wheat stalk, her lean limbs rippling with the strength of sycamore branches.

Anna’s father called her Mari, though the women who gathered at the well once a week to wash sleeping mats had said that was not her real name. Hiding in the bushes behind the gossiping women, as she often did, Anna had also heard them whisper that her mother came from a distant land, far to the south. Which explained, they said, why her face bore the fuller features of the desert dwellers and why her words sometimes rose on a musical curl.

Mari began to hum as she smoothed her daughter’s hair. Anna loved to listen to her mother’s songs. The melodies were simple yet uplifting. And though Mari was careful not to enunciate the words, sometimes a phrase or two would slip from her lips and Anna would hear, “Queen of Heaven around us,” or “Bless the earth that is to be blessed.” She noticed, too, that her mother would never hum such songs when her father was near. Since she had never heard anyone else singing the particular melodies, Anna came to believe that the songs were special, and something her mother shared only with her.

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Way 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting fictional take on a person of interest during the era of Christ. Curious twist to the events of the time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chrissy_W More than 1 year ago
thought provoking and worth the read Did I enjoy this book: I did enjoy this book. I read it every free chance I had. I found it to be thought provoking and an interesting way to see things and rethink familiar teachings and stories. The characters were wonderfully written. Anna, Jesus, Peter, Ruth, Judas, Tabitha...all of them were fantastic. Peter - so confused and hurt. Judas - the conflict he must have had throughout the whole story. Ruth and Tabitha - such love and strength are found in these two women. Anna - finding her place in her world. Jesus - trying to find his place in the world. The scenery and landscaping were written such that I could see it in my mind's eye. There are parts of this book that I disagreed with, but I kept reminding myself that this is a work of fiction that wants the reader to ask "what it?". This work will give people something else to think about. Even still, some parts really bothered me. I'm not going to spoil this book with this review. I was with everything up until the last 60+ pages. That is when it really struck a nerve and bothered me. Part of me wishes it didn't go where it went. However, it fit with where the direction of the book went. But, all-in-all, a good book. Well worth the time to read. Would I recommend it: I would recommend this book with the caveat that you definitely need an open mind when reading The Way. Book groups will love it because it will spark debate and conversation. Will I read it again: I will not unless it comes up as a book group selection.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
The Earth is the Mother's and all that flows from there. Staying one with the Mother through meditation and respect for creation yields right relationships and blessings in the fruits of creation. These are some of the fundamental beliefs that the followers of the Way have followed for centuries, but now it is women who live these beliefs as the religion of men has grown in order to justify male domination. The latter is now determined to eradicate the Way and all of its followers by whatever means possible. This is the world into which Anna is born. Her mother may have been a follower but is weakened by a domineering, abusive husband. After her mother bears a stillborn child and then dies herself, Anna's father sells her to traveling shepherds, but not before a wise woman protects Anna from worse. A mysterious necklace is all Anna has to remind her of a sacred, healing power existing somewhere in the world. Anna, one realizes is a girl but has the facial features of a boy for which she is despised and feared as an emanation of something evil. After she has learned the work of shepherding, she hears more of this Way briefly but is more preoccupied with the male role she is constantly living and making friends with the leader and another man, Peter, who has secret feelings for this young boy now known as Jesus. The story gradually changes to the point where Jesus is sent on a mission to get supplies and comes upon those women living in a cave in the secret area known as "The Narrows." Here Jesus' real identity is uncovered and she gradually becomes trusted enough to learn of the Way and the troubles that threaten its very existence. Jesus begins to travel and the story unravels to the point where events occur that defy most readers' expectations on their own religious upbringing and education. Surprises and agonizing attacks and more loom on every page. The Way is quite simply an astonishing story that is both credible and incredible. It stretches the imagination, one's doubts, wonder, beliefs over and over again, leaving one with questions and answers galore! Fascinating fiction!
Shayna_Gier More than 1 year ago
Named Anna... who answers to the name Jesus occasionally as well... Oh, and she lives in ancient Palestine. While I'm not usually one for historical fiction- I loved the fact that this story took place in biblical times. I just found it awesome- probably because Bible times and the first century AD is a frequently re-occurring interest/research topic for me. That the story not only takes place in biblical times but tells a fictional account so different from the story that practically anyone alive is at least familiar with just adds to the awesomeness of this book. The story was a very easy and enjoyable read, as well as thought-provoking. The entire time I was reading the book, I was just so captivated by the gender roles and how they have changed- and stayed the same- since before the first century. I agree with Kristen Wolf when she says that The Way is first and foremost the story about a young girl finding her identity. The story is more-or-less very familiar to anyone who may pick this book up, but it's familiar in a way that doesn't scream "And guess what happens next!" Honestly, if anything my current knowledge of the events that are historically well known added problems- not assisted- in following the story of what happens to Anna. Kristen Wolf writes very honestly as a girl growing up in a world that is definitely dominated and ruled by males, and then exposed the power of femininity. The questions that Anna asks are heart-stabbing, especially when seen through the eyes of a child. The issues faced by Anna as an adult, after living for years as a boy, are just as startling as she finds her place in her own body. The Way is the first book that author Kristen Wolf has written, and I very much look forward to reading the next books she comes out with as well. This book was provided for me by FSB Associates at no charge, nor was I given compensation of any kind for this review. This review only reflects my personal opinion.
mrsred49 More than 1 year ago
I received the beautiful hardback copy of this book from FSB Associates and it is an Oprah's fall choice, I have never chosen a book from this collection but thought I would give this one a try. ¿ The story takes place in 7 A.D. and in ancient Palestine, Anna was a girl that is a tomboy and her mother is always having to tell her to cover her face and dress the way the women and girls did in that peorid. Her mother was expecting a baby so Anna had to do a lot of the work as she carried her grandfather's breakfast to him, a bunch of boys started to tease her. The family lost everything and the time had come for the father to dress Anna as a boy and sell her so that she could have a place to live. She finds a band of sisters that had healing powers and joins them to make her home but even that was dangerous. "The Way" is a novel that is written in such a way that sometimes it is the truth and then again it is back in the past and even fantasy in some places. A very interesting novel and I think for the first book written by Kristen Wolf I think it is well though out and written. I think anyone would enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good story with some food for thought
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must for book clubs! This will generate all sorts of discussions about what you believe. A book that's definitely outside the box when it comes to religious books. Love it or hate it - it's very provocative.
TheUtleyReader More than 1 year ago
Kristen Wolf writes a Life of Jesus unlike anything you have imagined. It is likely to offend the traditional Christian and provoke distress among the most conservative. Those familiar with the biblical texts may enjoy, as I did, the way Ms. Wolf re-imagines certain biblical characters and narratives. The Way serves as a damning critique of patriarchal religious traditions while telling a good tale. Some might find the feminist point of view a little cliche at times, but the Utley Reader is a male pastor, so I should probably yield to others on that point. I highly recommend The Way.
BonnerBooks More than 1 year ago
I read this a month ago and thought it was amazing. Then I saw that OPRAH Magazine selected it as a Title to PickUp Now in the Makeover issue (September) This is a hugely important story for everyone to read, men and women alike. Young and old. What if - ? is the question the author asks and I've been contemplating the answers ever since the last page. I hope Ms. Wofl write more soon!
AngieIAM More than 1 year ago
What if Jesus were a woman? That's the question that this fine novel poses. Ms. Wolf isn't the greatest writer out there, but her story raises interesting points. I enjoyed the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TopBooks More than 1 year ago
"Wolf takes the prevailing Jesus mythology, twists it around, and stands it on its head by reimagining the Messiah as a female.. this controversial biblical revision is sure to be a book-club darling."-Booklist "A young girl in ancient Palestine struggles with her calling as a spiritual leader in Wolf's audacious, deftly woven debut."-Publishers Weekly "This book took me on a journey back to the days of Jesus. I was surprised in more ways than I ever could have imagined. The Way is one of those rare novels that makes you think."-Javier Sierra, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Supper "The Way is a unique and ambitious debut novel, certain to provoke passionate discussions."-John Shors, bestselling author of Beneath a Marble Sky "Wolf's voice, vision, and verve combine to make The Way an emotional and action-packed debut."-Alice Peck, author of Bread, Body, Spirit: Finding the Sacred in Food and Next to Godliness "The Way is a magical, evocative first novel that I plan to buy a carton of to give to my family and friends. Kristen Wolf's rich imagery transports the reader into ancient Palestine where harmony and balance-the feminine Way-have been lost in the worship of a vengeful male deity. The tension between how the world is and how it might be if people followed The Way is as vital a question today as it was in ancient times. This message of compas sion, healing, and respect for women could indeed transform our world."-Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., author of A Woman's Journey to God "The point [Wolf] makes in this book is one I deeply believe in: we begin with the mother and then we lose our way-all of us."-Kavita N. Ramdas, the Global Fund for Women