The Red Tent – Anita Diamant

March 14, 2010 § 20 Comments

If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.

The Red Tent is a book about women, all of them distinct from each other, all of them with their own strengths and flaws. The Red Tent is particularly about the life of one woman; Dinah of the Bible, daughter of Jacob and his first wife Leah. In this book, Anita Diamant gives a voice to Dinah, as she tells us the stories of her mothers, the four wives of Jacob; the story of how she grew up with a slew of brothers; the story of her dreams and love; and the story of pain and betrayal.

I don’t know much about the Bible, or its contents. So I’ve not heard of Dinah. But I have heard of Jacob, and his father Isaac, and his father Abram (Abraham?). From what I know, it is their stories that have been told and retold for so long, but that is not the case here in this book. In this book, we are given a look instead at the characters that surround these men: their wives and daughters.

So much of the book and its story was new to me. The rituals these women carry out when a girl reaches puberty; when a woman first becomes a man’s wife; when she brings forth life into the world. Everything is sacred, nothing is taken for granted. These women celebrate the fact that they are women, that they bleed, that they bear children and that they feel the pain of childbirth. They celebrate all that makes them women.

We have so many books these days that tell about how girls have been neglected, unwanted for generations and generations. But when Dinah was born of Leah, it was deemed “the birth of a birthgiver”, and this called for an extra month of celebration. It surprised me that there could have been a time when maternity was not frowned upon as a sign of female weakness, that pregnancy was something to celebrate, and girls were not looked at with contempt.


I enjoyed this book, particularly because it’s related to the Bible in some way. I’ve always been interested in stories like this, so if there are any good books out there that are along these lines, I’d love to hear about them from you.

Rating: 4

* Note: I was initially still thinking if I should include this for the Women Unbound Challenge, seeing as how I’ve already completed the minimum number of books (I was planning to just read non-fiction for this challenge from here on), but I do think this is a good book that explores some parts of feminity and womanhood that are not found in many books. So yes, for the challenge it  is then.


§ 20 Responses to The Red Tent – Anita Diamant

  • JoV says:

    I love bible stories! This sounds like something I would read. great review.

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks Jo. I like bible stories too, but other than The Poisonwood Bible, I don’t know of any others. Do you have any good suggestions for me?

      • JoV says:

        Ha ha.. I don’t know any more Bible stories than what is found in the actual bible itself and Sunday school’s children’s bible.

        Those stories are deeply etched in my memory. But I suppose Jeffrey Archer’s “Kane and Abel” is a title that implies something of the early days of the Bible.

        Sorry to disappoint.

        • Michelle says:

          No fear about the disappointing. I think we all pick up books along the way anyway. And sometimes books that come as surprises work well too. =)

  • JoV says:

    Oh if you haven’t check my reply on my site, I wish you a good trip back to Malaysia, don’t forget to gobble up nasi lemak and assam laksa, and lots of nyonya food!!! 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      I think I saw it, and was meaning to get back to you, but time is horrendous to me right now. But anyway, thanks for the kind wishes. And yes, food is definitely top priority. Haha! (My mouth is watering even as I type this. Oh, for some good nasi lemak…)

  • Aimee says:

    I must say I did enjoy The Red Tent…I’m not a bible lover either so I didn’t know much about these interesting women, but afterwards I kept my eye out for similar books like it.

    There was a strange turn halfway through the book though, wasn’t there? I thought it was exciting but a little bit…sensationalist…considering its themes, did you think as well??


    • Michelle says:

      I think I know the strange turn you’re referring to, and yes, it did seem kind of odd. I was more interested in the beginning, the ending did get a little off for me. The ending wasn’t too great for me, but overall, was a good read.

  • Nymeth says:

    I’m actually not completely sure how I felt about this book! I liked it overall, but I lost interest in the last a hundred pages or so, and that tainted my opinion of the whole thing.

    • Michelle says:

      I think we’re of the same opinion, only it took me a few days to write this post up, and so I was looking at the book with more of an overall look, rather than having the ending stuck in my head. I think the beginning half of the book was definitely worth the read.

  • candletea says:

    Oh, this sounds like a wonderful book. I don’t know a lot about the bible, but I think I’d love to read the story of a woman in the Bible. I’ve read another book from Anita Diamant, The Last Days of Dog Town, and I enjoyed reading that as well, although it sounds like this book might be a lot more interesting.

    • Michelle says:

      To be honest, The Last Days of Dog Town doesn’t sound that enticing. Haha.. But I do love stories about biblical characters. I hardly read enough of them.

  • kiss a cloud says:

    I’m still unsure whether to read this or not. Have been going back and forth. I am a Bible reader, so not sure how it would affect my enjoyment of this. BUt I’m really interested. IN fact, I saw a hardcover copy at Wal Mart a few weeks ago, and it was the small-ish type (which I like in hardcovers) and was very tempted (also having a paperback price). Thanks for the feedback.

    • Michelle says:

      I don’t know what the story is like in the Bible. All I’ve been able to find out is that in the Bible, it’s said that Dinah was raped, and that’s all there was to Dinah’s story? If you do get around to reading it, I’ll definitely be interested in reading your thoughts about the book and how much of it is referred to in the Bible. It could make for a good discussion. =)

  • chasing bawa says:

    One of my friends recommended this book to me years ago because of the portrayal of women in history and in the Bible and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since (I’m really slow in getting round to reading things…) I love bible stories as well but these days I tend to veer towards heretical stories.

    • Michelle says:

      I think I know what you mean about veering towards heretical stories. I’m at a limbo really. I’m not sure if I’m veering towards anything. Just floating along and picking books that come my way, almost.

      It’s quite a good book, this one. Would be interested in reading what you think about it.

  • Frances says:

    I am not an especially religious person so was hesitant to read this for quite a while, but found it an easy and entertaining read when I did get to it. Don’t think that there were any new or novel concepts of gender identity put forward, but it was entertaining all the same. Good, not great.

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Frances. I rather agree with you. It was good, easy reading. I think on whether or not it had new concepts about gender identity would depend on how much the reader was already exposed to beforehand. For me, some of it was new, some of it a little ‘meh’. But I do see what you mean.

  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book, so I was thrilled when I found a copy at a library sale for 50 cents! My father-in-law read this book when it was first published and kept recommending it to me. Too bad he’s been gone for several years; I would have loved to discuss it with him, understand a man’s point of view. Anyway, great review!


    • Michelle says:

      Thanks for dropping by Anna. I do hope you get around to reading it. It really is quite a good read. And it does seem like a pity that your father-in-law isn’t around anymore. It would have been interesting to see what a man would think about the book. (Especially because quite a bit of the book talks about menstruation, pregnancy and birth.)

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