Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Red Tent by Anita Diamond

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
336 pages
Published September 1998 by Picador
Source: my copy

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.


  1. I read this book probably 7-8 years ago. I remember really liking it, but I don't remember why. Hopefully blogging about books will help my memory.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Interesting to see that you are listening to Kavalier & Clay. I really liked that one (but I read the book). Hope you do too!

  3. I'm really glad you enjoyed this book! I love when authors take a historical (or in this case, biblical) event or person and create a whole new story around it. I think that was what I liked most about The Red Tent.

  4. I really enjoyed it when I read it but it is not one of my favorites or anything. I have an ARC of her new one and I'm hoping it will have some punch!

  5. I loved this book so much. She truly made the time period and the setting come alive before my eyes. I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed it too!

  6. I read this several years ago and I loved it. I was fascinated with the concept of the four wives (I hope I'm remembering correctly) and how they were able to get along and live together in every day life. Diamant really made the characters come alive, IMO.

    Thanks for the review on an old friend! =O)

  7. I found this one dry in spots too. It didn't hurt my overall enjoyment of the book, fortunately. Like you, I wouldn't count this one among my top favorites, but I did like it. Great review, Lisa.

  8. This book just didn't cut it for me either.

  9. Glad you finished this book and have finally posted your review!

    Sorry you didn't love it like I did. That's okay though :)

  10. I read The Red Tent when it first came out. My book group loved it but I thought it was just 'okay' and really didn't see what all the fuss was about. It's seemed to follow of formula of sorts and was a bit too structured for me.