October’s book club selection was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Apparently, if you are a woman, you HAVE to read it. I’m normally one of those people who hears I have to do something and runs in the other direction. Unfortunately, my book club votes on which book to read rather than allowing me to choose all the books (bummer, right?), because the description of The Red Tent didn’t tickle my fancy. I suffered through a history of the bible course in college and that was about enough of biblical characters for me, thank you very much.
~ Blurb ~
Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils 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 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 connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.
~ My Review ~
It took me approximately 2,919 years to read the first fifty pages of The Red Tent. Slight exaggeration. I did find the start of the novel to be a slog to get through. This family is impossible to keep straight! Thirteen children, four wives… all with impossible to pronounce names. Too bad I didn’t discover the family tree until after I finished the novel.
I finally gave up on trying to remember who was who and things went much better. Once I got over the names, I had to get over the sister wives issue. Somehow Jacob had four wives and still had time to be gentle and loving to each of them. Not only did he have time for them but he was apparently a gentle lover. Hmmm… If you’re his only daughter, though, he won’t be able to recognize you. He will, however, avenge you by killing your beloved and his entire family. Oh my. The family saga aspect of the novel was obviously not my favorite part.
I also struggled with the blatant sexism portrayed in the novel. I realize this is historically accurate, but it only served to remind me that there are many cultures where treating women as second class citizens remains the norm. I usually enjoy novels that take me away from my daily life instead of reminding me there’s a lot in society we still need to improve.
The description of the daily life in Dinah’s time period is the crowning achievement of this novel. The herbs they used for midwifery, for example, was incredibly detailed as was the description of what daily life looked like for women of the time period. It made me more than a bit thankful for living in a modern age.
As someone who studied history, I enjoyed the descriptions of the locations and the various tribes. The landscapes and rivers were easily recognizable despite the passage of thousands of years. Thanks to Diamant’s descriptive voice, I could imagine what Ancient Egypt was like when Dinah arrived there.
Although there were aspects of the novel I appreciated, I wouldn’t have slogged through those fifty pages had it not been for my book club. If you enjoy historical novels, give it a try.