Friday, October 06, 2006

Book 74: The Red Tent

NUMBER: 74
TITLE: The Red Tent
AUTHOR: Anita Diamant
STARTED: September 25, 2006
FINISHED: October 1, 2006
PAGES: 321
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: We have been lost to each other for so long.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Far beyond the traditional women-of-the-Bible sagas in both impact and vigor, 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.

REASON FOR READING: Another one that was on my list that I came across in my first library trip.

THOUGHTS: This is one of those books that people are always telling you about, and you tell yourself that you'll get around to it at some point never really expecting to actually do so. Let me tell you: do so. Do so now.

This is one of the best books I've read in many years. Diamant's plot is creative and webs fiction and biblical story with ease and grace. Her characters are fascinating because they are rich, deeply imagined people. The smallest bit of personality is thought out and, even though it may be unwritten, this comes out in the story.

The sole part of this book, however, that makes it a phenomenal read is the lush, intricate, and jump-off-the-page writing. Diamant tells her story in the first-person, from Dinah's point of view. The Red Tent sounds more like an oral story than a written book. The sound and words that Diamant forms in the reader's head envelopes them from the inside out. Diamant uses Dinah's hushed voice to paint a vivid picture for the reader, right down to the dust in the air and the sound of scampering children.

From the very first sentence, it seems as if Dinah is telling you her story directly. There is no middle man of author, there is just you and her. And, Dinah is not in some far off location recalling a memory. She is there with you. And you, you are not sitting at home, in your favorite chair, a glass of wine at your side. You are sitting at a camp fire, homespun itching your skin, the smell of woodsmoke in your nose, the night's breeze on your face, and Dinah is leaning into the fire across from you and she begins to tell her story.

Dinah describes her life as no one else could. The intricate details, her thoughts on her family and their lives - all of these things are present - the drama, death, love, heartbreak, and everyday life of a woman in tribal, ancient times. The text of this novel is so full that it is hard to imagine how the writer was ever able to nail it down into a single book. She uses Dinah as the anchor, and it is in knowing Dinah that we come to know the remarkable story of not only her, but those around her. Dinah leads you through her world, a world that is more different than can ever be imagined. A tent is home. Monotheism is a minority opinion. The earth has its own personality and an active one at that. In The Red Tent it is almost like everyone and everything thing wants to talk at once, and only Dinah can make sense of the noise for you.

As a reader, you become so connected with Dinah that her emotions flow into yours. You become fascinated with the idea of being a woman, and being allowed to truly spend time in the red tent. You eavesdrop on the menfolk while serving their evening meal. You clutch at your throat with sweaty fists when your father Joseph confronts Esau, his often though cruel twin brother. When your lover is taken from you, right out of your hands in the most bloody way possible, you curse, scream, and want to die in your despair and sorrow. But rise again in the knowledge that you bear his child within your belly. And when you find love and joy in your work again, you are calmed, making peace with your violent past.

This personal connection never leaves the novel, and that is it's strength. At it's core, The Red Tent is one woman's story. Diamant puts Dinah in front of you, she lets you into her life, and, at the last page, you are not ready to let go of this remarkable woman that you have come to know.

MISCELLANEOUS: What I don't know about biblical history could fill an ark.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): I want it in hardcover... but this copy has to go back to the library.
RATING: 9/10 [Excellent! Couldn't put it down]

CR: Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
RN: The Gladiator's Honor by Michelle Styles

2 comments:

Marg said...

I lurrrrvvveeed this book!!! So good!! And I started telling everyone I knew to read and read it now!! I've backed off a little now though...thank goodness!

Zeek said...

I loved this one too! I wasn't as crazy about the second half of the book as the first half, but yeah, it's a great read!