Book Review: The Red Tent

This review of The Red Tent, by Karen Jacobs aka Kacy Jey author of Jolene, You’re Not a Monster for the Gonzales Book Club and appeared in the Gonzales Inquirer on March 15th. I’m posting it here, because The Red really is a great book that I highly recommend to anyone, even men!

the red tent

The Gonzales Book Club met at the Gonzales Public Library on Feb. 18 to discuss “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. This was Diamant’s debut novel. It was originally published in 1997.

The novel is based on the brief story of Jacob’s family that is told in Genesis chapter 34 in which two of Dinah’s brothers slaughter all the men of a neighboring tribe, take everything and everyone of value; because they believe Dinah was raped by the man she loved. But, that’s their side. The Red Tent is Dinah’s side of the story.

From a young age, Dinah shouldered great responsibility as the only daughter in a large family of one father, four wives, and twelve sons. The four wives or as Dinah called them, her four mothers looked to her to remember them and their stories. These stories give us an enchanting look into what life might have been like at the birth of the Jewish and Christian religions.

For Jacob, Dinah’s father was the son of Isaac who was the son of Abram. Their story: Their God asked Abram to sacrifice his only son, who was a gift from this God in Abram’s old age, to prove Abram’s devotion to his God. At the last moment, Abram’s God sent him a more fitting sacrifice. Abram, Isaac and Jacob believed that their God was greater than all the other deities. Jacob’s four wives Leah, Racheal, Zilpah and Bilhah believed in many different Gods and Goddesses, but Jacob ruled the tribe. So when Jacob had to circumcise his first born because his God demanded it, the women didn’t like it, but they could not stand against Jacob or his God’s wishes. This is only a small taste of the sub-plot of the religious evolution, but it’s woven throughout the book with subtle threads that by the end made for a fascinating tapestry that showed us the beginning of two worldwide religions.

Still, this isn’t a religious book. It is the story of young woman coming into her own. She wasn’t raped, but gave herself to the marriage bed as was the custom of her husband’s tribe. Though she suffers for the murderous deeds done by the hands of her two wicked brothers, Dinah survives. To live, though, she must remember the lessons she learned as a child in the Red Tent.

As for the Red Tent, it was where the women went during their monthly cycle. All the women were within a day or two apart in their cycles and would spend three days in the Red Tent resting and refreshing. What a marvelous idea. Three days at the spa with your girlfriends, to bond with every month. We discussed that this is something we as women have lost in our drive for equality. We no longer celebrate the feminine. We speculated that most women we’ve known have hated their menstrual cycle. Whereas the women in the Red Tent embraced it as evidence that they were the life bearers. Without that spilt blood, they could not bring new life into the world. And really, the main theme of this book is celebrating bringing life into the world. Dinah is a rich character, as are her mothers and many of the supporting characters.

The world Ms. Diamant recreated is beautiful and so real that if I believed in reincarnation, I’d think she lived there, perhaps as Dinah. This is a book that has changed the way I see other women and myself. It’s shown me another side of the Biblical stories and given them a refreshing burst of fresh air in my mind. I’d enjoy reading other books based on the Bible stories, especially if they were done in such a tasteful non-preachy way as Ms. Diamant has done with The Red Tent. I think the Song of Solomon would make a great book, but it’d have to be R rated.

This book is available in eformats, paper, audio and it’s also been made into a mini-series that is available on Amazon.

Our next meeting will be on March 17 at the Gonzales Public Library from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. We will discuss Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout, a collection of short stories based upon a the central character Olive Kitteridge. Everyone is welcome at our meetings.  We look forward to see you there.

Reviewed by Karen Jacobs aka Kacy Jey author of Jolene, You’re Not a Monster, member of the Gonzales Readers Group and the Gonzales Writer’s Group. Connect with Karen via Facebook, The Web or Twitter.

The Writer’s group meets the first Thursday of every month at the Gonzales Public Library 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and is open to new members of all ages. Under 18 writers must be accompanied by an adult their first time. The next meeting will be April 7th.

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