The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is one of those rare books that actually enhances the body of literature that society has amassed over the millennia.
The Red Tent is a fictional account of Dinah, a woman mentioned only briefly in Genesis. The story begins with Jacob, Dinah’s father, and his marriages to two sisters, Leah and Rachel, who each take their other two sisters, Bilhah and Zilpah, as slaves. Thus, Dinah is born into a family with four mothers, and the story centers on these women’s everyday lives, which include dealing with their husband, Jacob; bearing and tending to their children; and dealing with the jealousy, insecurity, and love that each experiences for her sisters and husband.
Later, the novel merges with Dinah’s Biblical account, in which she is “defiled” by a prince who later asks for her hand in marriage. (The Bible does not make it clear whether or not this “defilement” was consensual.) Jacob’s sons, having learned of their sister’s defilement, avenge this wrongdoing by killing the prince and massacring everyone in his palace.
Diamant’s text moves the reader from Haran (an ancient Mesopotamian city), to Canaan, and then to Egypt. While a lesser writer would have merely mentioned these moves, Diamant transports and then envelopes the reader in distinctly different cultures and customs throughout the narrative, while giving the reader insight into the effects that these changes have on the protagonist.
This novel’s depictions of womanhood and motherhood have resonated with me months after reading it. This phenomenal work of art is my book club’s favorite novel to date, and has sent us on a quest for more well-written historical fiction. Any suggestions would be welcome!