The Red Tent
Adult historical fiction
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 tell of her father, Jacob, and his twelve sons.
Told in Dinah's voice, Anita Diamant imagines the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood--the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of the mothers--Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah--the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through childhood, 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.
The concept of this book fascinated me. I am familiar with the stories of Genesis like the story of my life, and have been educated thoroughly in the traditional commentary. Therefore, this book was scary to me - I didn't want it to besmirch the names that are holy to me. However, more than anything I found The Red Tent a beautiful story, and maybe a thought experiment on the people I'm descended from.
The setting was one of the most incredible I've read - Dinah speaks to all the women of the generations, and tells us her story. She starts with that of her mothers' - with all the facts and all the feelings, and no anachronistic judgements to marr the picture. She describes the house of Jacob in such detail that you feel Cnaan in the late Bronze Age - feel the heat, see the views, smell the food cooking and the animals. Hear the children, play in the red tent with the women, feel the pain and joy of motherhood along with them. Truly, it was an experience to read.
The climax in this story, the turning point, is also the only incident from which we hear of Dinah in the bible. This is also the place in which our story parts ways with the traditional narrative. It was beautiful, and happy and sad all at once. The dramatic bit itself was rushed - I found it hard to follow what was happening until later.
The third part of the novel takes place in Egypt. This part was the saddest, but also the slowest and a little... boring. However, I found the existence of this storyline in which Dinah finds herself in Egypt very interesting, because there is a legend saying she did but no explanation was given.
The full circle in which we come to in the end basically made me cry. Like the rest of the book, it was beautiful and tragic.