Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review of The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Lost Hopes
Name of Book: The Red Tent

Author: Anita Diamant

ISBN: 0-312-19551-6

Publisher: St Martin's Press

Type of book: Adult, "biblical", women,

Year it was published: 1997

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.

Characters: This is an interesting twist to the infamous story of Dinah, as well as the stories of her mothers and some other family members. Personally speaking, I thought that the character of Rachel was portrayed the way I always imagined her; a bit selfish and angry. Dinah is a bit hard to describe as a character. However, I wasn't happy with the way male patriarchs were portrayed towards the end, and didn't enjoy having them portrayed in such negativity. Basically this is the story of Dinah and her life and goes up until Dinah's death. This novel also mentions how she became a midwife and goes when Jacob dies goes back only to find out that her father doesn't remember her but this knowledge doesn't bother her. Unfortunately there is very little interesting there and very little to talk about when it comes to characters.

Theme: The theme of the novel details the womanhood and tends to place a great focus on the woman bonding, such as Dinah and the four mothers, later in the story Dinah and another midwife and so on. However, what bothered me more than anything else as well is the polytheism that Jacob's wives as well as Dinah and Rebeca practiced. If this was not a bible themed story then it wouldn't have been objectionable, but the fact that this story does come from the bible which talks about monotheism, this is disturbing and shouldn't even be there. (Maybe in beginning the wives might practice polytheism, but then I always thought they would turn to monotheism.) What are possible themes for the story? Its okay to practice polytheism for women, Judaism doesn't seem to do anything for women.

Plot: As mentioned previously, this novel discusses the life of Dinah, but unfortunately the plot isn't handled well in my view. There seems to be a lack of conflict, (if the author is going to go with polytheism vs monotheism theme, she could've made that a conflict,) and time isn't used at all. In history, in one way or another time is used and mentioned. Maybe not in years but something like seasons or whatnot. It would help to know how old she was when the prince had died and whatnot. Unfortunately also, almost all of the book is boring because there is no clear conflict. The beginning and dehumanizing the biblical characters was interesting in my view. I kind of liked the Jacob in beginning of the novel, and the reason for Rachel's fruitlessness, but these are not enough to save the novel. To an extent the author followed chronology, although I don't think she ever read the Jewish commentary, especially in Chumash where there is a mention that Dinah inherited the personality from Leah who also liked to go out.

Author Information: Anita Diamant also wrote other books such as The New Jewish Wedding and Choosing a Jewish Life: A Guidebook for People Converting to Judaism and for their families and Friends. She lives with her husband and daughter. This is the caption from 1997. She also wrote a few other novels that have Jewish themes such as Good Harbor: A novelDay after Night: A novel, and so on.

Opinion: When I started to read this book, I had high hopes that I found a book that I felt free and safe with. I hoped to have more details and more about the life of Dinah, but alas this novel isn't it. I disliked the polytheism that the women practiced, disliked the way that for the most part the patriarchs were portrayed negatively within the novel. This book doesn't feel spiritual at all and although the closest thing to ancient history I ever studied was Roman Empire, I don't feel that this novel was well researched and thought out. Also, Anita Diamant gets the sons wrong. (Gad and Asher are not twins, Issachar comes after Judah, and Bilhah had Naphtali, not Leah. By the time Dinah gets kidnapped, Rachel should have been dead and should have had Benjamin.) Jacob's story is my favorite part in the Hebrew Testament by the way, so I really felt offended that she defiled it in such a way. In my view, please do not get this book at all. Trust me when I'll say that you won't enjoy it.
1 out 5 stars

(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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