Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Ana says:

When I finished this book I was totally overwhelmed by what I had just finished reading. I think it is one of the best books I've read this year.

This is a book about women, about their strength and ability to keep their dignity and traditions in a period where men held most of the power. It also shows the importance of family bond's and story telling as a way to pass history and culture from one generation to the other.

This is also a book of historical fiction based on a biblical episode mentioned in Genesis 34. I couldn't resist doing some research to find out more about Dinah. She really is just a footnote in the Bible but Diamant gives her and the women of her tribe a wonderful dimension. Not only that but she makes the settings - Mesopotamia, Canaan, Egypt - come alive. We can almost smell, feel and see the places that she describes. We will never know the true story but this is a fabulous account of what might have been.

Marg says:

This is one of the earliest reviews that I wrote, because when I finished it I just HAD to talk about it to anyone I could. Even now, nearly two years later, if someone asks for a rec this is one of the first books I will mention!

Normally when I think of historical fiction as a genre, for me it is generally going to be about royalty of the years after about 1000AD and usually British, but not exclusively. However, I recently read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, set in ancient times in Mesopotamia, Canaan and Egypt, and am really glad that I expanded my range of times to accommodate this book.

The Red Tent is the story of Jacob's daughter Dinah. She is mentioned in Genesis in the Bible and in Chapter 34 we are told the story of what happened to her. What Anita Diamant has done is filled in the outlines as provided in the Old Testament, telling stories of what it was like growing up as the only daughter of Jacob (who came to be regarded as one of the major characters of the Old Testament – no less than the father of Israel), of her life with her mothers, what it was like to practice as a midwife in those times.

Jacob had four wives, two of whom were named as sisters in the Old Testament, and the other two being their servants. Diamant names them all as having the same father, but only two of them (the beautiful Rachel and her older sister Leah) were acknowledged by him. What this means for the Dinah we come to know is that all four women are both her mothers and her aunts. During Dinah's childhood we come to know the four women, each of whom have different skills and hold different places in Jacob's heart. We hear the stories of the Red Tent, where the women withdraw each month at the new moon for rest and fellowship, we hear the stories of the births of children, and of some deaths in childbirth of both mother and children. Most of all we are treated to what it may have been like to live in fellowship as a woman with other women in Old Testament times.

Eventually, as Dinah grows she begins to follow one of her aunts and begins to train as a midwife. This brings her to the city of Shechem where Dinah's life changes completely. In the Bible, once we hear of the events as they occurred at Shechem we hear no more of her, and here Diamant takes Dinah on a journey that leads Dinah to eventually live in Egypt.

The story as written by Diamant is touching, and surprising, and gives plenty of thought provoking suggestions of how life may have lived in ancient times. The use of the household gods throughout the story surprised me a lot, but I can see how Diamant builds on what we have been told in the Bible and taken her story to this point from those references. I was so interested in this story I did find myself referring back to the Old Testament to try and work out which parts of the story were directly from there, and which parts were enhancements.

I loved this book and would rate it as 5 out of 5. I was sorry when it ended, but I am sure there will come a time in the not too distant future where I will find myself revisiting the life and times of the only daughter of Jacob.

Kailana Says:

This is one of the first reviews I ever wrote, so it is not the best review ever, but here are my thoughts.

I am not a very religious person, so this story is not something I am overly familiar with. It is the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob from the Bible. Not even having to research the story, I can say that this is more information than appears in the story of the Bible. It is a woman's perspective of her life and the life of the people around her.

The story starts back in the time of her mothers. Four sisters that would end up marrying the same man: Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. They marry Jacob, who is the important chapter in the Book of Genesis. Dinah tells the story from before she was born until the moments after she dies in the last pages of the novel. Leah was the woman that gave birth to her. She was the hard-working woman that gave birth to the majority of Jacob's sons. Rachel was the beauty, and the second wife. She gave birth to two of Jacob's sons, and was a midwife that influenced Dinah's later life. The last two wives were Zilpah and Bilhah. Zilpah had little interest in her husband, she always seemed to live in her own world. Bilhah was the calm and quiet member of the family, until she does something so shocking that Jacob turns his back.

Dinah grew up with her mothers' love, as she considered all these women one of her mothers. She was the only daughter, so she got special attention from these women that would sustain her through the rest of her life, even when they were apart. A great travesty happened in her life, and she turned her back on her family and travelled to Egypt where she had a son, met the man she would spend the rest of her life with, and discovered a whole new family. She was considered a great midwife, Rachel's legacy to her, and well-respected in her own world. Near the end of her life she travels to her homeland where she sees her grown up brothers that were still living, she has twelve, and makes peace with her past.

It is a lovely tale, it does not matter what part of the world it takes place in or the time frame. It is about the struggle of women to have a life in a male-dominated society and have a voice for their beliefs. Dinah overcomes great obstacles to become a great woman of Egypt. I recommend this book to everyone.


  1. OK- you guys have convinced me. I"m going to have to read this!

  2. A friend just lent this to me!! I'm even more excited to read it now!!

  3. It sounds like I really have to read this book!

    Like Kailana, I am not very religious, but I'm still very drawn to stories from the Bible. I like to take any chance I get to learn more about them. And I also love books set in ancient times, perhaps because they fill the gap that history cannot possibly fill. So much about those times remains unknown. But like Ana said, it's great to see writers imagine what could gave been.