Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

Summary:  Her name is Dinah.  In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons in the book of Genesis.

Told in Dinah's voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoil of ancient womanhood--the world of the red tent.  It begins with the story of her mothers--Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah--the four wives of Jacob.  They love Dinah and give her gifts that are to sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land.  Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate, immediate connection.

Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich story-telling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women's society.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://www.thejcconline.com/)

My Review:   If you can ignore the fact that (for some) this is a sacred story, you can let go and enjoy an interpretation of Jacob's family through the eyes of his only mentioned daughter in Genesis.  I'm afraid that because the author took liberties with much of the details in the story I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd have liked to.  It has a heavy 21st century spin.

There are multiple aspects to the story that I struggled with. Most of it centers on the embellishments Diamant made to create her story.  Since it is historical fiction, she has this right, but I had a hard time with some of these embellishments.  I'm afraid to delve into those for this review, in case it would either spoil the book or be irrelevant, and pointless, for those who haven't read it.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the relationship between the sisters or Dinah's mothers.  The Bible makes it clear that Rachel was the favored of the sisters and that because of this the sisters had a rivalry.  This part of the story that Diamant embellished was the part that I accepted without contest.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be the daughter your father tricked into marrying the man who wants your sister.  And then, to know that for the rest of your life you'll always be playing second fiddle.  Rachel's struggle for a son and Leah's ability to have them must have been a huge strain, a matter of contention until old age.  That, and knowing that your husband knows (biblically knows) your sister like he knows you, has got to be repulsive, and more so because your father forced the result.  I cannot even fathom this.
For some readers the prolific nature of sex and the sexual relationships in the book may turn them off.  The majority of the encounters are vaguely written and mostly sweet encounters, but there are some accounts that are disturbing or simply more information that some would want to read (e.g bestiality, masturbation, etc).

Diamant's writing is beautiful.  She draws in the reader and makes you feel like you're actually watching people of those times and places.  There are times you actually feel like you're smelling and tasting the herbs and spices the people used.  All of this I could appreciate.  It was just laced with so many unnecessary imaginations of the author and infused with the mindset of our time that I couldn't give it my stamp of approval.  I can't say I'll recommend this to other readers.  While it is well written, I feel it is misleading and at times simply wrong.

My Rating: 2.75 stars--almost 3 stars for the writing, but not quite.

For the sensitive reader:  There is quite a bit of content that is offensive: bestiality, rape, masturbation, abuse, and sex scenes that although they aren't detail ridden, they are abrupt and disturbing.

Sum it up: A historical fiction--heavy on the fiction--account of Jacob's family and twelve sons through the perspective of the only daughter.


MindySue said...

I'm with Kari on this one. While I might have rated the book a little higher for writing (perhaps a 3.5), some readers are likely to be bothered by the creative license Diamant takes with a sacred story.

I enjoyed the story that Diamant wove, and the entire concept of the red tent, but at times it was irreverent with topics I found sacred, and more sexually oriented than I felt was necessary for the story.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

This book has been by far the most controversial of all the books we've read for bookclub.
I read it when I was pregnant with my first child...so my memory was of the women in "the red tent." Somehow, I skimmed over the other.

Certainly not one to be read with out a DISCLAIMER -- especially for a sensitive reader.


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