- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; read by Carol Bilger
- Audio CD
- Publisher: Macmillan Audio; Unabridged edition (January 5, 2002)
- ISBN-13: 978-1559277099
Back-of-the-box blurb: The Red Tent is based upon a mention in Genesis of Jacob’s only female offspring–his daughter, Dinah.
Author Anita Diamant, in the voice of Dinah, gives an insider’s look at the details of women’s lives in biblical times and a chronicle of their earthy stories and long-ignored histories. The red tent of the title is the place where women were sequestered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and illness. It is here that Dinah hears the whispered stories of her four mothers — Jacob’s wives Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah — and tells their tales to us in remarkable and thought-provoking oratories. Familiar passages from the Bible take on new life as Dinah fills in what the Bible has left out — the lives of women. Dinah tells us of her initiation into the religious and sexual practices of the tribe; Jacob’s courtship with Rachel and Leah; the ancient world of caravans, farmers, midwives, and slaves; her ill-fated sojourn in the city of Sechem; her years in Canaan; and her half-brother Joseph’s rise in Egypt.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ thoughts: I read The Red Tent over a decade ago, when it was first published in the late 1990s. I remember that I liked it, but, I wasn’t keeping any sort of reading journal at the time, and would only have been able to tell you broadly that it was about women’s relationships in the Bible, those special connections that only women share through menstruation and childbirth.
Recently I listened to the unabridged audio of The Red Tent, read by Carol Bilger in a steady and impactful (full of emotion, without emoting) rhythm. What a pleasure!
The book stood up to a re-read/listen, and, since it’s fresh in my aural memory, I can tell you a little more about it. I realize many readers of this blog have already read The Red Tent - if you have, feel free to chime in with a comment if you recall what what significant to you about the novel.
And, it is a novel. That’s one misconception that I need to address right away. Diamant found the germ of her story in the Genesis mention of Dinah, daughter of Joseph. With meticulous research and clever imagining, she gives us a fuller life of Dinah, creating a personality that extends well beyond that brief mention in the Bible.
The Red Tent seems to be broken into two main sections. The first tells the history of the red tent, the sacred place where women in a community would retire each month during menstruation, where children were born, and the old and infirm cared for. Diamant weaves this story into the story of Dinah and her “four mothers,” her siblings, and her tasks as, first a girl, then a woman, under Jacob’s rule.
The second section of The Red Tent looks at those communities which have “forgotten the gift of the Great Mother” and no longer afford women this sacred space in which to rest and restore their bodies each month. Diamant tells of families, tribes, communities which have split and formed their own traditions, abandoning earlier ways, or even being unaware that such ways existed in other times and other places.
It is Dinah who is the constant throughout the novel; Diamant connects bit and pieces of Old Testament stories to her personal tale, making the legends of such men as Jacob and Joseph (yes, he of the hate-filled brothers and the many-colored cloak) come alive. More alive than even these stories, however, is the narrative of Dinah, whose first-person musings take us with her across lands and across time; through hard-earned joy and deeply-felt sorrow; examining the lives of both royalty and commoner; midwife, tradesman, and scholar. An excellent novel for those who can appreciate good writing and not feel compelled to argue the historical accuracy of each event.