Book Review: The Red Tent

The Red Tent, written by Anita Diamant

This book was handed to me by a friend, and I was told I would love it. I thought her confidence was a bit odd, considering that we had never really discussed our literary preferences before- but, she was right.

The Red Tent is a fictional story of the life of Dinah- a woman from the bible. Dinah was the sister of Joseph, and the daughter of Jacob (who was the son of Isaac, who was the son about to be sacrificed by knife at the altar, by his own father Abram). Again, this is a fictional account of her life. It is an amazing and powerful story, however is only an embellishment to the little information we are given about Dinah in the bible.

The title of the book, The Red Tent, is a reference to the location where women spent their womanly times. During menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, etc women retired to the red tent to bask in the glory of womanhood and celebrate the blessings (and curses) only mothers and daughters can experience. They embraced their monthly cycles together, suffered through pregnancy together, and witnessed the coming of life (childbirth) and death (miscarriage) all within this one central location. It was a place where they learned the routines of life, and bonded through joint experiences.

The story is broken up into three different sections; first the story of Dinah's mothers, four sisters who are all wed to the same man, and express all the knowledge of the red tent; second, the story of Dinah herself, and what happened to her as she grew into womanhood and was expected to take on the same roles of her mothers; and third, the story of Dinah's later life spent in Egypt. I prefer not to go into detail of each section, mainly because it would require so much of the story, and I would prefer that you read it for yourself. I will try and summarize my lasting impressions from the book's major parts.

I was impressed by the bond the four sisters/wives, shared with each other. Yes, there was bickering (do you all know the story of how Leah took the place of Rachel in the wedding ceremony, and thus became the first wife? Rachel's resentment always remained large), but the women had a deep understanding of what they were all going through. Pain was a huge part of their lives, but the rewards of motherhood and family seemed to outweigh all that was negative. These 4 women are portrayed with such grace I could only hope to have within myself in the future, and are beautiful examples (to myself) of what true womanhood is. Of course, books might just be written movies, and not exactly holders of truth.

-- this is a divergence. my relating thoughts. I wonder what life would be without the support and love of family. If/when I become a mother someday, who will I turn to if I don't have my own mother to be there? It's such a strange thought, something I've never really considered. Who answers my questions, takes the crying baby when I'm exhausted, and teaches me patience, if it's not family?

Anyway, back to the story. After learning all about the mothers, we are so lucky to hear the stories of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, in first-person. She expresses the youth of a child, the angst of an adolescent, and evenutally the transformation into a young woman. The trials and suffering she is put through is unimaginable, and some would think unforgivable, but at the end of the story we see it all come together in the wisdom of old-age.

I don't want to give away the whole story, so I'll leave it at that. Ultimately, I felt like the first and second sections of the book were heavy- laden with so much feeling, but it was a wonderful heavy feeling. My reading was slow during these sections, because I had to allow time for the information to sink in, and personal reflection. The third section flew- 30 years are summarized in maybe 100 pages, but the lessons of life return onces Dinah looks back on her life, her experiences, and her appreciation for it all.

If you're feeling sentimental, read this book. If you want to feel sentimental, read this book. But, I'm not sure this book would be for everyone- I loved it, and recommend it to friends. If you read it, and hate it, please don't blame me. And I'm curious, how would a man respond to the book? I guess it's time to look for male reviews....

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