Genre: Historical Fiction/Religion/Feminism
Short Synopsis: Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood—the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers—Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah—the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.
What I Liked:
- Diamant’s writing. Poetic and lyrical were my reactions when I read the first few pages of the book. I love the tone of voice Diamant used for the main character Dinah. Her prose is very visual and animated. It felt like listening to a spoken word poetry.
- A breath of fresh air. I’m not a keen Bible reader. I am one of those who only knew Dinah as a name mentioned in the Bible. That is why I find it refreshing to read a fictional first-person narrative about her version of her life. Through the eyes of Dinah, we get an insight, if only re-imagined, of biblical times. We get to learn about their cultures, practices and way of life.
- The curiosities in the Red Tent. In the book, women we’re treated by men as subordinate — submissive, used, cursed — a scene still recognizable in today’s world. However, their resilience shines within the boundaries of the red tent, where I would say most of the interesting scenes happen. It is where women go during their periods (although I find it a little weird that all the women in the story has a synced cycle). In the red tent, the lives of women are kept alive through storytelling and memories. In the red tent, secrets, conversations and feelings are shared. In the red tent, you get a sense of how powerful women can be. Blood signifies both life and death, beginning and end, pain and pleasure, tears and joy. Such interesting things to ponder.
What I didn’t like: The book, in general, takes a feminist slant so I understand that the POVs are focused mostly on women. However, there were slightly biased depictions of men. Some lack character development, while others seem like trifling characters.
“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.”
“The painful things seemed like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.”
“Of all life’s pleasures, only love owes no debt to death.”
“I could not get my fill of looking.
There should be a song for women to sing at this moment (giving birth) or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment.”
“Death is no enemy, but the foundation of gratitude, sympathy, and art.”
“It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.”
Final Thoughts: Captivating. Rich. Beautifully and poignantly penned. It may only be a fictionalized version but every page brims with life.
I’m glad that this novel did not end with forgiveness of sins and starting all over because some sins are far too great to be forgiven, more so forgotten. But not forgiving others does not necessarily means living every day with anger. This is what Dinah showed me. It is choosing to walk away from the bad and move forward. And, sometimes, the closure we seek cannot be found in others but within ourselves.
My reading heart is full.
Have you read The Red Tent? Did you like it as much as I did?