Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Red Tent Book Review

The Red Tent: A Novel: Tenth-Anniversary Edition The Red Tent: A Novel: Tenth-Anniversary Edition by Anita Diamant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A year ago I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, but when it came up on my women’s book group last month, I didn’t hesitate to read it again. The story resonated with me. Upon finishing it last year, I ran to the only private place in the house—the bathroom. I closed the door behind me and sat on the toilet in the darkness and cried and cried and cried. It felt like I was crying for all the women since the beginning of time. I cried tears of joy for their awakened desires, their possibilities and passion. I cried bitter tears for their thwarted desires, their suffering. I cried for my mom. I cried for my daughter. I cried for me.

Although our culture doesn’t celebrate women’s cycles, they are such a powerful part of who we are. Our cycles connect us to the cycles of nature, to pain and its release, and to each other. And in that way, Anita Diamant revealed the hearts of the women of The Old Testament. Diamant does a beautiful job of setting the scene so that we are there with the wives of Jacob, spinning, weaving, gardening, cooking. Although they end up sharing a husband and children (not always willingly), they are unified in their womanhood. They come together monthly in the red tent to celebrate their cycle and nurture each other.

Beyond the red tent, they are bound by their duties. They have to stay together to survive. This is what I got from my second reading. Their togetherness, their shared histories, their trials and tribulations, their rituals and celebrations, awakens in me—centuries later—not so much a desire to return to their way of life, but a yearning for community. While independence is so highly valued, perhaps we need to come together to survive, as well.

That said, Diamant does not idealize the women and men in her retelling. There is bestiality, racism, sexism, murder, rape…. This is the story of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, a mere footnote in The Old Testament. It is her view of the red tent. It is her journey away from the red tent, from her pastoral life, from her brothers’ destinies. She must leave her family to find her tribe, herself. Although her journey is not without suffering, I found a few of the situations in her path to be a little too serendipitous, uncharacteristically easy. However, that was easy for me to overlook in part, I think, because, before she left her homeland, the oracle foresaw something—something big?—something else for Dinah—a path her own. You can’t argue with destiny, can you now?

Diamant breathes life into ancient biblical figures and gives voice to those who had no voice—audacious, this godlike act. Is it blasphemous? Historically inaccurate? A feminist’s diatribe? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. But read it. Read it if you are a young woman or an old woman. Read it with your mom or your sisters or women friends. Read it if you are religious or not. It’s a damn good tale.

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  1. Ah Jenell! Your review is so on the money for me! And the book doesn't idealise anyone does it? It's steeped in all that Old Testament ethos, but told in such a way that we can connect with these characters don't you think? Diamant brings her footnote to life. And we ache for her.

  2. Hi Jenell. I've found you via Mon and the wonderful group of women there... This post has inspired me to read this book. Thank you!

  3. Nettles, when you say "we ache for her", I feel it in my stomach. Perhaps I need to cry some more!

    Jeesh, I cried a lot! I suddenly feel a little self-conscious about that. But it really connected to my own sense of loss, and, despite the sad ending, a sense of empowerment. I was overcome....

  4. Hey there gorgeous friend,
    Thanks for your beautiful words, so nice to see to hear from you.
    I hope your chilly festive time is beautiful...lots of love..xx

  5. Wasn't the ending one of the most beautiful endings you've ever read? It was so amazing...beautiful...sad...and uplifting.

  6. Yes! She always stayed true to herself through all her trials and tribulations. So in the end, she had love and peace. Fulfilling...sigh....

  7. this was an excellent book and I recommend it often. We have lost way too much of female culture. Mostly due to ourselves since our history was never written down and many females had no one to pass the stories on to. Now a days, few children wish to hear them.

    I am sadden you have not chosen to keep your blog going. I wonder how many more of your list of 99 have been "bolded".... Reading through it, you need to go ahead and bold number 11. Trust me on this, after reading your whole list, you HAVE communed with nature. I hope you can see this someday.


  8. It has almost been a year since I stopped writing. My voice and vision... Kellie, thank you so much for the nice note. It warmed my topsy-turvy heart.