So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, July 21, 2006


The Red Tent. Anita Diamant

Based on the second half of Genesis in the Old Testament Bible, The Red Tent tells the story of Jacob, his four wives, 12 sons, and one daughter from the women's point of view. It is a fictional life story of Jacob's daughter Dinah, whose name only appears in the Bible 9 times, with 7 of those in chapter 34 of Genesis.

Told in the first person, Dinah starts with how Jacob came to her family and married her mother Leah and her aunt Rachel. The red tent of the title is the place to which the adult women retreat during the new moon when they are menstruating, and is the place where the women's traditions and stories are passed on. Month after month Dinah, and we the readers, slowly learn the structure of this early tribal culture that will eventually become the Jewish people.

Unlike the Genesis version, this is a strongly matriarchal story, and the activities and visions of Jacob and his 12 sons are just background to the childrearing, farming, cooking, spirituality, and crafts traditions of the women of this time. Especially strong are the birthing traditions because Dinah is portrayed as a midwife.

Anita Diamant does a wonderful job of revealing the culture and setting through the words of someone of the time. Dinah is telling the story and it is not until the very end that we discover her intended audience. This is a well-crafted glimpse into the struggles and joys of ancient tribal women of the Middle East.

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