Her name is Dinah. In the Bible her fate is merely hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the verses of the Book of Genesis that recount the life of Jacob and his infamous dozen sons. The Red Tent is an extraordinary and engrossing tale of ancient womanhood and family honour. Told in Dinah’s voice, it opens with the story of her mothers – the four wives of Jacob – each of whom embodies unique feminine traits, and concludes with Dinah’s own startling and unforgettable story of betrayal, grief and love. Deeply affecting and intimate, The Red Tent combines outstandingly rich storytelling with an original insight into women’s society in a fascinating period of early history and such is its warmth and candour, it is guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of women across the world.
The Red Tent is a new perspective on an old tale. The story of Jacob/Yaqub is recognised and widely spread in all 3 main monotheistic religions, as are the stories of his father, Isaac and son Joseph (think technicolour dream coat, not Mary). The Red Tent tells the much lesser known story of Dinah, Jacob’s only named daughter.
I’ll say it straight up; if you’re squeamish about sex, menstruation and childbirth, this is not the book for you. The title alludes to the tent in which the women of Dinah’s childhood and early adulthood waited out their periods and gave birth. The story often centres on these topics – Dinah is never hidden from these issues as a child, and trains as a midwife as an adult. For women in this period, time spent in the red tent allowed for bonding and sisterhood in a way that normal working life did not; all of the women’s cycles in the camp were synced (also with the cycle of the moon – yes this is possible), meaning they all spent 3 days together every month. There is a large sense of sisterhood in the book, however it isn’t unrealistic or romanticised – the women disagree and fight on several occasions. Rebecca, Jacob’s mother, ruthlessly casts out Dinah’s cousin because her mother and the women of her camp did not follow the same tradition of the red tent.
Although most of the book is set after Dinah goes to Shechem (it’s not spoilers if the origin texts are thousands of years old!) and therefore features little of the physical red tent after this point, the bonds between women, particularly surrounding childbirth, remain strong. The novel shows woman power at its most real – the good, the bad and the bloody!
For me personally, the book felt almost nostalgic. I was born and raised Catholic, and although I’m not much of a believer now these are figures that I grew up hearing about. I don’t believe that you have to be religious or familiar with the religious teachings of the story to enjoy this book, but for me it added a layer of familiarity that certainly didn’t go amiss. Anita Diamant offers a brilliant new perspective on traditional tales and provides a more well-rounded and sympathetic view of the time period and Dinah’s story. It is incredibly well researched and I would say it would be an intriguing read for anyone.
Have you read this? What did you think? Are you religious?
See you soon,