The red tent

by Anita Diamant

Paperback, 1998

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Picador USA, 1998.

Description

The story of Dinah, a tragic character from the Bible whose great love, a prince, is killed by her brother, leaving her alone and pregnant. The novel traces her life from childhood to death, in the process examining sexual and religious practices of the day, and what it meant to be a woman.

Media reviews

The Red Tent instantly drew me in from its very first paragraph. The narrative voice, that of Dinah, reminded me a lot of that of Margaret Atwood’s wonderful Penelopiad which I read last year. It was strong but slightly melancholy and conveyed the same idea of reclaiming the story of a marginal woman from a great male narrative, telling the story from a new, feminine perspective and revealing what ‘really’ happened.

The red tent of the title is the separate tent set aside for the women where they go while menstruating to keep apart from the men. The Red Tent then is a very appropriate title as the book focused almost exclusively on feminine concerns: becoming a woman, giving birth and finding a husband. I appreciated this insight into their secret world and I liked the idea of telling a masculine story to recentre it around the women.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Osbaldistone
A great tale, imagining the women's story that is hidden behind the Biblical stories of Jacob and Joseph. This work contains some wonderful moments, and the second and third major sections are very good indeed.

But, I have two complaints that drop this work down to a 3-star rating. First, the first major section, in which Dinah relates the stories she has heard from and about her 'mothers' is necessary for character development and contains some good stories as well, but it just seems too long and too detailed. I almost stopped before getting past this part.

Second, Diamant seems to be determined to marginalize or demonize the male characters; especially those that are primarily the protagonists in the Biblical tales. Yes, the Bible is male-centered and the women in the Biblical stories are mostly marginalized. But the whole book would have seemed more real if Diamant had made a few of the male characters 3-dimensional (or at least 2-dimensional).

Her apparent purpose - to show that the women in these stories probably had a lot to do with events and that they and most of the men probably believed in many gods and godesses - could have been accomplished with the book still being female-centered, but without making nearly every male either brutal, clueless, and/or irrelevent.

Os.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is the story of Dinah, a figure out of the Bible. She was the sister of Joseph and Jacob's only daughter. As Dinah says in the prologue, she has been largely forgotten and "on those occasions when I was remembered, it was as a victim. Near the beginning of your holy book, there is a passage that seems to say I was raped and continues with the bloody tale of how my honor was avenged."

This isn't the tale she tells. The Jewish Times calls the novel an "extended midrash or exegesis--filling in gaps left by the biblical text" and I've seen it described as what the Bible might have been if told by women. And certainly that female point of view and Diamant's research and imagination give a fresh, vivid and completely engrossing perspective to this tale of the time of the Biblical "patriarchs." But this isn't one of those reverent, dogmatic biblical stories; this doesn't read as a Jewish version of "Christian fiction" and in fact there is quite a bit of goddess worship depicted in this tale.

Dinah tells how she "had four mothers"--her birth mother Leah and three "mother-aunties" and as the only daughter among their many sons, she was the one told the stories of the women in "the red tent"--the menstrual tent that is the province of the women. The novel is told in three parts. The first, "My Mothers" brings those four wives of Jacob, all sisters by different mothers, to life: Practical and earthy Leah, with one blue and one green eye who smells of baked bread. Beautiful Rachel, a healer who smells of sweet water. Quick-minded, spiritual and bitter half-Egyptian Zilpah, the half-Nubian Bilnah, wise and good with hair like "springy grass" who smells of loam. Diamant makes wonderful characters of them all."My Story" puts a different, but logical twist on the scant details in the tragedy of Dinah in the biblical text, and "Egypt" deals with her life in Egypt and how survival turns to healing.

If I have a criticism, it's more what she makes of the men of the bible. I thought in the first half her depictions were quite nuanced, that Dinah showed both good and bad in her father and brothers--I'd even call Jacob quite lovable in the first half, and there were interesting sides at first to her Joseph.

To some extent, I understand this depiction. As she said in the afterward, she rethought the "rape" because of the love shown by the man accused in submitting himself to circumcision. Even without the motive of a sister raped, the retribution depicted in the bible is ugly enough. Take away that motive, then Simon and Levi at least can only be villains.

But Diamant tars with a far broader brush, and in that I felt flattened her male characters and missed an opportunity when reunited. After all, the story of Joseph and his brothers is among the most moving in the bible because it is a tale of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption. I wish Diamant had left Dinah and her brothers with a bit of that grace.

Despite that criticism, this was a pleasure to read, and I loved much of the spins and twists woven out of the Biblical narrative and the depiction of the bonds between women at the dawn of civilization.
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LibraryThing member buckeyeaholic
This book was WONDERFUL! The story of Dinah. She is mentioned very briefly in the Bible. She tells tales of the red tent where the women in her tribe go to have their periods & give birth. She tells the tales of being a midwife, her first love & tragedies in her life. I was a little leary because I'm not very religious myself but the writing mixed with the narration (audioboook) was melodic. I hated for it to end. Totally capivating!… (more)
LibraryThing member katylit
An amazing book, giving a fictional account of the story of Dinah from the book of Genesis. Diamant captures the intensity of women living lives so closely entwined, showing their attributes and their faults equally. At one point I would think how wonderful it would be to have such a support group around me, at another point I would shudder to think how suffocating it would be!

I found the book wonderfully written, beautifully constructed, characters well drawn. An excellent book.
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LibraryThing member bogopea
Loosely based on story of Book of Genesis, told through the mouth of Dinah, daughter of Jacob. The red tent is a place where women go for childbirth, menses and illness. And where Dinah learned about life from her 4 mothers. Recorded books version excellent.
LibraryThing member LiteraryFeline
Occasionally I come across a book I know I will read again. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is one such book.

I admit I was really hung up on the whole "biblical" side of the story before beginning my reading, and that was a bit off putting. As much as I love to explore religions of all kinds and their histories, reading a book about biblical figures isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Even with the reassurances of friends and fellow bloggers that I had nothing to worry about, I still hesitated. I dragged my feet and even considered not reading it just yet. But I voted for the book in a group read and it would not look very good if I did not at least give it a try. And, of course, just like everyone said, I had nothing to worry about.

I loved the prologue. It is one of those that grabbed my attention from the very first moment. I was sure I would love the book. As I continued on, however, I became disillusioned. The story itself was interesting, including the history of Dinah’s family, in particular that of her mothers and how they came to be with her father, Jacob. It was written in the style of a story being told to the next generation—the exact atmosphere the author was most likely hoping to achieve. And yet, I found my attention wandering. I wanted to be a part of the story, rather than just having it told to me (I blame that more on my mood than on the book itself). Not to mention I wanted to get to know Dinah. Her family history was interesting and all, but I wanted to know more about Dinah.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when the book completely won be over—when I knew I might end up loving it after all. It was about page 161 when Dinah was left behind by her family to serve her grandmother, Rebecca, in Mamre.

Despite my reservations about the biblical aspects of the novel, I couldn't help but think of the Bible stories I was raised on as I read; and I wish I'd remembered them a little more clearly. Throughout the early part of the novel, I repeatedly flipped back to the family tree at the beginning of the book, making sure I remembered who belonged to who and how they were all connected.

What drew me most to the story was the strength of the women and the joy and care they took in their traditions and beliefs. Even though they lived in a patriarchal society, their rituals and traditions were empowering. It was a time when a girl becoming a woman was celebrated; whereas the day would eventually come when it was something to hide and be seen as a curse. There was one moment in the novel in which Jacob learns of the women’s rituals surrounding a girl’s first menses. He becomes angry and violent. I couldn’t help but feel very sad at that point. It was a foreshadowing of what would come—not in the book so much, but in reality—such traditions eventually died out in many cultures and were no longer reveled in. Just as how the stories, once passed down from mother to daughter, seemingly became the realm of men. Or at least, their stories became the ones heard and repeated most often.

Dinah had a relatively happy childhood, but her adulthood was a difficult one, no thanks to two of her brothers. I most enjoyed the time we spent in Egypt together, although it was not always the happiest of times. It was during the second half of the book that I really felt I got to know Dinah, and became a part of her world. I cried with her and took joy in the happy moments. She truly is an admirable character and I am glad I got the chance to know her in The Red Tent.

The Red Tent reminded me a bit of one of my favorite novels: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. The two are very different books, of course, but they both feature strong female characters and touch on similar issues that women faced in our history as well as on a spiritual level.

By the time I finished the last chapter of the book, I felt satisfied. There is so much more I could say about this book. It is full of nuances I have not even begun to touch here. Even with those moments when I doubted the book would live up to my expectations, I can truly say this is a book well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member auntangi
Every woman should read this beautifully written book. I wish that women still honored themselves, and the miracle of what our bodies can do, like the women in the red tent. We could learn something from them.
LibraryThing member cestovatela
The Biblical story of Dinah occupies barely half a page, but Diamant weaves a whole life for her, using her imagined story to examine the characters of Jacob, Isaac, Rachel and Leah and to explore womanhood and motherhood. Each of the characters are well-developed, interesting people and I found myself mourning when, one by one, they disappeared from Dinah's life. Diamant manages to raise powerful themes without coming across as cliched or cheesy and final passage is perfect. This is one book I'd be happy to read again.… (more)
LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
I'm not sure how I ended up with this book -- I believe it was recommended by Recorded Books Unlimited, I vaguely remembered its being controversial, and thus I added it to my Recorded Book list as part of my sworn duty to P.O.t.R.R.

It's the sort of story I like, in theory, one told in the interstices of known tales, in between icons and themes we know and to which we are drawn. The fact that this unknown story is that of the women in a man's story adds interest. From that point of view, it is interesting. It not only provides an intriguing imagined life to the flat names and begats of the Bible's women, but reminds one how much could be and would be unsaid, how many women and even gods have been forgotten.

That said, the story often strays into cliché, the writing is serviceable but seldom moving, and the extreme prettiness of the female characters, handsomeness of the love interests, and lustiness of their nuptial joys can grate.

Interesting, engaging and imaginative, but occasionally trite or excessive.

The reader, Carol Bilger, does a fine job, and the musical interludes (mostly at the ends and beginnings of tapes) are genuinely appropriate and atmospheric.
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LibraryThing member gillis.sarah
This is a great book, and one of the things that makes it so interesting is that Anita Diamant decided to write the life story of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob. She is mentioned in the Old Testament, but only very briefly, so Diamant decided to flesh out her story and give her a personality. The results are quite compelling. She's a very strong woman with an interesting life.… (more)
LibraryThing member NeedleThread
I think this is such an important book. It's so interesting that we know so little about Biblical women and their lives and it's great that this book explores this. I fantastic, fantastic read.
LibraryThing member hazelk
Just because it was a sort of feminist take on a biblical theme and explores some rituals that are not dealt with much in fiction doesn't make this novel good literature. I was quite interested for a few pages but this interest rapidly diminished. I found it too light for my taste. It was a novelty act not a class act..
LibraryThing member anterastilis
This is a truly original book. I barely remember reading the Bible story of Jacob, his wives, sons, and one daughter. I knew that Jacob had a ton of sons - Joseph was the one with the coat of many colors - and that Jacob's brother was Esau. I didn't remember the daughter's name, or what her part in the story was.

Dinah was the only daughter of Jacob. Jacob's four wives - Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah dote upon the girl. She is included in the stories told in the comraderie of the Red Tent, where menstruating women are secluded. The first part of the book revolves around her relationship with her "four mothers". In particular, she grows close to her beautiful aunt Rachel, who is a midwife.

The book runs quite smoothly up until the halfway point, like a lazy river. Told from Dinah's perspective, the tales of the Red Tent, descriptions of the mothers and their sons, life as a shepherding family - even when it was slow, it was interesting to read. The sudden, extreme violence that changes Dinah's life is so jarring and so unexpected that, at first, I thought that it had to be a dream. After re-reading it a few times, I realized that it was no dream and that I had been carried along so peacefully that the sudden level 5 rapids freaked the hell out of me.

I very much enjoyed this book. It is an era of history that I know little about and was interested in learning more about. I caught myself wondering "now, how on Earth would Anita Diamant know this?" about the rituals and lives of the women. Certainly, no contemporary texts remain about womens lives in the Biblical era - if they were ever written, at all. I understood that Anita Diamant worked with what she had and took liberties with the rest - and in knowing that, I was able to detach myself from the usual historical skepticism and just enjoy the book.
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LibraryThing member sleepydumpling
What an exquisite book. I finished it on New Years Eve and believe me, it was ending the year on a reading high note.

A beautiful celebration of womanhood, the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, sister of Joseph.

Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob, and with a dozen brothers by her father's four wives, she is treasured by her "mothers". She grows to womanhood amongst her mother-aunts, priveledged to be part of the red menstrual tent even before her own womanhood.

Forced to Egypt pregnant and alone, and cut off from her family by her greedy brothers, Dinah's life journey as a woman of women brings her good reputation and sanctuary wherever she goes.

I loved this book, it's celebration of womanhood deeply touched and delighted me. Dinah is a true heroine and I shed tears of joy, despair and grief for her all the way through this book.
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LibraryThing member brainella
I found myself constantly putting this book down because it was rather dull. The story itself was interesting, and embellished, from the Bible. I understand it was a fictionalized account of the lives of women in biblical times, but it was rather drawn out and rambling throughout. I finally started to enjoy reading about 70 pages from the end for about 40 pages and then it dropped off again. The book taken as a whole was fine. If it wasn't a book group selection I would have dumped it at about page 50.… (more)
LibraryThing member kambrogi
This book tells the tale of the last female in the family line that also produced Joseph, the dreamer of Old Testament literature. It sketches out several generations of women, their relationships, their interactions, their customs and traditions, and their downfall. The content relating to the lives of women at that time, especially if it is as accurate as one assumes, is fascinating, and the story is told with attention to clarity as well as poetry. I would have appreciated more insight into the character of Joseph, since he appears at the beginning, the middle and the end, and seems to be a pivotal link in the tale, but in all fairness that is not the story this author set out to relate.… (more)
LibraryThing member AprilHamilton
This book relates a lot of interesting historical detail, but in the end it seemed more like a memoir than historical fiction because there didn't seem to be much of a central plot. Things happen to the women in the story and they react, but there's no deeper examination of important events in history, there's no discernible point (except maybe that women have always had to rely on one another instead of men, and probably always will---nothing new or earthshattering there), and the life of the protagonist isn't all that colorful. In the end I was left wondering why so many people rave about this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member litelady-ajh
Can't remember when I read this one... but I do remember that it is a really interesting & riveting fictional story of women from the bible.
LibraryThing member LCoale1
I couldn't put this book down, despite the fact that The Red Tent is basically about nothing more than women being fertile / infertile. The story of Dinah was really intruiging, although the embellishments and creative liberties got on my nerves at times. I wouldn't recommend reading Genesis 34 any time close to reading this book, for sure. It was a good read, though.… (more)
LibraryThing member RobinReardon
In addition to the vivid picture Diamant paints of life for the earliest Biblical Jews, this story has a point to make to those who believe that the Bible defines marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman.

Following the life of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, we see how Jewish women in that time, in the Middle East, were treated by the men who essentially owned them. And we see how the women used their own strengths to support each other, how their situation caused them to use what influence they had in ways that either benefited or damaged other members of their sisterhood, and how this influence could be made to affect the lives of the men in their tribe. Dinah’s story demonstrates clearly how human nature escapes from between the fingers of a hand trying to control people by squeezing their bodies and souls into a malleable mass of silly putty.

The book, for which Diamant did scrupulous research, also provides the only clear Biblical definition of marriage we have: one man, many women. Many religious people who would deny that same-sex partners should be allowed to marry and call it marriage point toward Genesis 2:24, where it says that man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh. Never mind that this verse appears right after Adam’s rib has been used to create Eve, and that Adam and Eve were both without father or mother (other than God, of course, but hardly the earthly equivalent implied). Never mind that Eve was the only game in town for Adam, so he had no choice of any kind. Whatever the reason for this verse to appear where it does, it was roundly ignored by the descendants of this famous pair. The children of Adam and Eve formed themselves into nomadic tribes in which one man had several wives, and he relegated them to the red tent when they were sick and unclean—that is, during their cycles of birthing, menses, and other “illnesses.”

The Red Tent gives modern readers a fascinating insight into the relationship between men and women, and between women and women, in a time when the Judeo-Christian religious tradition itself was being formed—and, true to the historical period, she does it with precious little religion of any kind.
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LibraryThing member booksandwine
The Red Tent retells the biblical story of Dinah, Jacob's daughter. Essentially, Dinah is pretty much a footnote in the Bible, so Diamant really fleshes out the story of Dinah. In The Red Tent, women are strong and intelligent and hard-working. Menstration is not seen as disgusting in this book, but something to celebrate. Really, reading this book I felt proud to be a woman. To me, this book was well-written, parts of it just broke my heart, but other parts made my heart swell. Diamant's writing style pulled me in and kept me hooked until the very end.… (more)
LibraryThing member AuthorMarion
If the Bible had been written by a group of women this is what it may have been like. As we follow the story of Dinah, whose brother was Joseph of the Amazing Technicolor Coat fame, we see how Bible history unfolds through the eyes of a female. Treated indifferently by the men of her family she bonds with her mothers and aunties during their time in the red tent. The red tent is a place where the tribeswomen went for a period of days during their moon cycle. Here they gave birth, passed their monthly courses, grew old, and passed on their knowledge to each other.

As we follow Dinah through her early years and adolescence, we witness her coming of age and becoming one with mother earth. We watch her personal growth as she learns to love, to lose, and to love again. We watch as she trades the family of her youth for the family of her maturity.

Biblical history takes a back seat here, giving the story just enough to form the backdrop of a powerful story. Dinah's brother Joseph is portrayed more realistically in this story as a man who wears his celebrity amongst the Egyptians as a heavy yoke instead of a crown. He becomes much more human.

The characters in The Red Tent became so much alive for me that I hated to see the story end. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member kaelirenee
Stories of women in the Bible are few and far between. When they are included, they are often temptresses, harlots, or victims. Occassionally they are heroes. Because of the time and influences of authors and editors, their stories are limited and culled. Anita Diamant examines the life of one of these women, Dinah. In Genesis 34, the story of her rape and the revenge enacted by two of her brothers (of the 12 sons of Israel) is presented, but nothing is ever written about her again. Diamant tells her tale from Dinah's point of view. She begins by telling the stories of the wives of Jacob, which to her are as important as the life of Dinah.

Diamant shows her love of Biblical history and scholarship by presenting the smallest details and showing their importance. She embraces the tone of a woman of the time. She takes every scrap of mention of the women in Jacob's life and weaves a beautiful and compelling tale. She creates characters with spirits. You'd swear they were women you could meet soon, women you could admire and learn from. While reading many Bible stories, I've often be confused by the motives of the characters and wanted to know why they acted a certain way. I knew why the women in the book did everything they did. I still don't understand why the men acted the way they did.

This is a very female story. The title of the book should make that obvious-it's named for the isolation of women during their periods. Every day life is important-cooking, cleaning, weaving, child-rearing. Some of the best writing she does is when she describes childbirth. I rarely get weepy when reading, but I did choke up when Dinah describes the need for a special song or prayer for a mother when she first looks upon her newborn. She also describes the distance women in this time had from Jacob's god and reminds the reader that when this story was written, the world was still polytheistic, ruled by many gods, of which, the god of Abraham was one.

I've read about midrashes, stories that rabbi's wrote to explain the actions of the characters in the Bible or because there seems to be a gap. The story of Lilith as the first wife of Adam is one of these, if memory serves me correctly. I think that Diamant wrote this in that tradition. I commend her efforts and wish that other novels taking on the lives of women of the Bible were so well-written and concieved.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Reimagining the story of Dinah in the Bible, The Red Tent brings us into the women's tents of the wives of the patriarch Jacob. Through Dinah's eyes, we get the story of her life, from her mother Leah and aunts Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah through the entirety of Dinah's life. Here we see the tent not as seclusion during menstruation but a celebration of womanhood, sacrifices to goddesses and celebrations of the new moon, and the importance of childbearing.

I have no particular problem with retellings, and in fact enjoy fairy tale retellings quite a bit when I can recognize the original story and see where an author has gone into his or her own interpretation of it. In the same vein as The Mists of Avalon, The Red Tent takes a male-dominated story and tells it from the women's point of view. That's great as far as it goes, though few of the men come out in a good light in this telling. Beyond that, I simply wasn't engaged. I found it really boring, maybe because it was so epic in scope or maybe because I felt like the story wasn't reinterpreted so much as completely changed. I wasn't offended - though I imagine some might be - but I was constantly off-kilter as a result and not really sinking into the story.
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LibraryThing member slpenney07
Summary: Dinah's story is told from the point of view of her spirit, in order to pass on the stories of her mothers, as well as her own.

The Take Away: Dinah, pronounced DEE-nah, plays an impossibly tiny, almost overlooked role in the Bible. I love the way Diamant expands.

I have no idea as far as the historical accuracy detailed, but I swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Having four mothers was very cool. I made me with that I at least had aunts like that. It also makes me think of the village concept for raising a child. How much are we - with our modern advantages - missing out on?

I felt badly for Dinah's loss and sorrow. The contrast to the biblical picture raises so many doubts in my mind about the treatment of women in the bible. How did Tamar get a fair shake?

The story made me very aware of why God had some of his rules and anger. It cemented the missing details in my mind, right or wrong.
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