'The Red Tent' derives its narrative from the Old Testament story of Dina, the archetypal rape victim whose misfortune triggered the downfall of her family's patriarchal dynasty. From this rather depressing misogamist myth Anita Diamant writes a compelling and genuinely touching love story.
When I first picked this book up I expected an intense and intellectual trawl through biblical history. This was never the case and I was absorbed from the outset. Diamant uses history to engross her reader, the incredible marriage of Jacob to four sisters and the resulting jealousies and trials such a domestic set-up would create are recounted tenderly and plausibly, there is something soothingly voyeuristic amidst the difficult relationships between the women and their one husband.
I particularly loved the narrative surrounding the red tent itself, the home of the menstruating women of the tribe - how wonderful to remember such a time when women were so in tune with each other that they bled together every full moon. And paralleled with the patriachal leadership of the age Diamant creates an intruguing world of male leadership subserviant to the wonders of women, their bodies, their births and their secrets. I lost count of the number of births in this novel, but was again fascinated by the insight provided into the skills and reverence of midwifery.
In 'The Red Tent' Diamant defies the testament story of Dina's rape, instead revealing her relationship as a seductive and wonderful courtship destroyed from the outside by feuding brothers and an overly proud father. A brave incision into a male dominated history and religion.
Reading the details of the early childhood of Joseph, the fertility problems of Rachel and her handmaid sister and of Jacob leading his Israelite tribe was a treat and a new and welcome angle to this ancient story. Perhaps Diamant has presented Jacob harshly in this version of the tale, seeming sometimes cruel and the maker of some mightily disastrous decsions. But this is a woman's story and at last, in the guise of an enchanting novel, Diamant questions the wisdom and motivation of the men at the heart of modern Judaism and Christianity.
Successfully entwining history with myth this book is a delight, a fine curl-up on the sofa novel with a high feel-good factor and a blatant dose of girl-power.
I enjoyed this book because it raises questions without beaking seriously from the traditional Old Testament version whilst maintaining a terrific tenderness and thirst for love that the heroine Dina so truly deserved.
Read this, then pass it on to your girlfriends, they will thank you for it.