By Anita Diamant
Published September 1998 by Picador
This is primarily the story of Dinah, only daughter of Jacob (grandson of Abraham). Dinah is only mentioned briefly in the Bible but Diamant takes that piece and weaves a sweeping saga around it.
The book begins with the courtship of Jacob and both Leah and Rachel, both of whom he marries then takes their sisters Zilpah and Bilhah as consorts. The red tent of the title is the place where women of that time and place were sequestered during birth, menses and illnesses. In the family of Jacob, it was also a place of bonding and learning for Dinah. As the only daughter, Dinah was beloved by all of her mothers, each of which gave her gifts to help her deal with her future.
The Bible tells us that Dinah was raped by Shalem, son of Hamor the Hittite. Then Shalem said he wanted to marry Dinah and was even willing to be circumcised. But Dinah's some of Dinah's brothers could not accept this and set in motion a terrible chain of events. But Diamant suggests that perhaps Dinah was a willing partner and from there develops a story around the life of Dinah, although she was never mentioned again in the Bible. She takes us on Dinah's journey from daughter to wife to mother to widow to servant and midwife.
The book is told from Dinah's point of view and reveals the traditions and daily life of ancient women: the daily weaving and spinning, the use of herbs for everything from seasoning food to inducing childbirth, the worship of various gods, the practices of the midwives, and the caravans as the entire clan moves.
Diamant paints a vivid picture without being overly florid or fussy. Without becoming too dramatic, she is able to convey the full range of human emotion. My only complaint with the book is that, sometimes, in trying to move the story along and get in all of the characters she wants to introduce, Diamant can begin to sound a little dry. I know that there are a lot of you out there that love this book, that rate it up there among the top books you have ever read. I wouldn't go that high with this one, but it is a wonderful book, well worth reading.