"If you want to understand any woman, you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully."
- Anita Diamant, The Red Tent
I am revisiting The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. She can be honored by the fact that it is the first book I have ever re-read (as an adult); not counting the countless times I re-read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child.
This time around I am listening to it on cd as I drive from place to place. The narrator, Carol Bilger is excellent and brings a new kind of magic to the story. She has acted in several Adventures in Odyssey stories and has narrated other books. As I sit here, I am thinking about Dinah and wanting desperately to return to her story, but dreading the knowledge that it will be over soon.
The second time is different because I know what is going to happen and because it is on cd. But the magic of the story is not lost in these two fact. I still find my eyes wet and I still find myself wondering what piece of her story will speak to me this time.
My goals in the review of The Red Tent is to...
1. Discuss the writing and author
2. Discuss the religious ascpect and controversies of the novel
3. Tell you why the book is important
"I am so honored to be the vessel into which you pour this story of pain and strength."
-Anita Diamant, The Red Tent
The story is that of Dinah (Deenah), the only surviving daughter of the bliblical characters Leah and Jacob; the story told in Genesis. To refresh your memory, Jacob is the younger twin of Easaw and with his mother's help, cheats his brother out of his birthright by fooling his blind fauther. Jacob is sent away to his uncle Laben's land where he is instructed to mary Rachel (who I guess would be his cousin). He meets Rachel at the well, falls in love, and goes to Laben with his intentions. As a bride price Jacob offers to work for Laben until Rachel is old enough to be wed (aka: has her period). But at the last minute Leah is switched for Rachel and becomes Jacob's first wife.
Jacob agrees to to continue working for Laben and later marries Rachel. Jacob has several sons with Leah and eventually has a son with Rachel (who, if you'll recall, was "too old to have children"). Their son is Joseph who is eventually given "the coat of many colors" and is sold into Egyptian slavery by his jealous brothers, where he goes on to interpret dreams to the king.
This story is well known in the Bible. But not much is known about Dinah. The Bible tells of her rape by a prince and how her rapist then asks Jacob to marry her and agrees to be circumsized, along with all the other men of the city, as a bride price. While the men are recovering and sleeping, Jacob's sons murder all the men of the city, including Dinah's new husband.
That is all that is known about Dinah.
Diamant originally intened to write a novel about the relationship between Leah and Rachel, rival sisters with the same husband. But while reading, she realized that Dinah's silence and decided to write her story instead. In doing so she also tells the story of her mothers.
In writing The Red Tent, Diamand researched the lives of women in the ancient Near East. She wanted the book to come to life and be as accurate as possible in regard to the everyday lives of women in that time period. The information in the Bible does not include the details you would expect to find in a story; what is the weather like? what does it feel like to pack up your house and garden and move accross the land on foot. what do the characters look like, what do they say to each other before going to sleep at night, what do they eat, what games do the children play?
The Red Tent takes place inbetween the lines the Bible. Major landmarks are there and if you remember the story from the Bible you will find yourself exclaiming "oh! I remember that!" It's such a treat to read this book. It makes the biblical characters real and it makes the Bible come alive for many people.
I myself am a sucker for good writing. Not only is Anita Diamant's writing good, it is excellent. I have been devouring books since I could read (thanks to my grandmother and my aunt). Some writing just draws you in. I felt like I was inside the tent with the other women. I felt like I had attended the births and been there when Dinah came of age. I felt the anger she felt and the love of ther mothers. I felt her despair and her courage. When Dinah describes a cucumber as tasting like the moon, I could taste it! The next time you eat a cucumber see if it doesn't taste like the moon; cool and refreshing. She gives you such an appreciation for the littlest details; the taste and smell of water, the color of a woman's hair, the color of dirt.
You know, I also think there is a little something extra in the book especially for women. Diamant describes the red tent (the menstrual tent) and tells you what goes on inside, but not quite. It's as if she's keeping a secret. Even in describing the events of the red tent she keeps certain things private. As women we know these secrets and that makes it more special for us.
I would like to pause here. My following post will discuss the religous aspects of the book and why some people dislike it.
If you have read The Red Tent, what did you find special about her writing and the way she weaves a story?