Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

The Red Tent
Title: The Red Tent
Author: Anita Diamant
Publication Date: 11/1/05
Pages: 336
Genre: Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: On Reserve for ages
Date Completed: 4/7/15

Summary: Based loosely on the Biblical story of Dinah, the daughter of Jewish patriarch Jacob, The Red Tent explores early Meditteranean culture and the bonds between women.

What I Thought: I have heard about this book in passing many times, but still did not know fully what to expect. I was surprised to realize it is based loosely on a Biblical figure. Loosely, being a key word.

The protagonist and heroine of the story is Dinah, daughter of Biblical patriarch Jacob and his first wife Leah. Dinah takes us back before her birth and shares the story of Jacob and the four women who bore his children. Each mother (two wives, two concubines) has her own distinct personality and relationship with Jacob. Dinah celebrates their unique qualities and recognizes each as an important part of the family and family culture.

Biblically speaking, Diamant has taken a lot of liberties with the story. The account of Dinah's life in the Bible itself is contained to a few sentences. Of course, fictional liberties needed to be taken there. Diamant also takes some liberties with the stories of Dinah's parental figures. While I understand the need to elaborate and wax imaginative in order to turn what amounts to a few paragraphs of historical text into a full novel, I think Diamant could have stuck to the spirit of the Biblical account more. She paints the God of Jacob on equal footing with the gods of his wives. Idol worship and polytheism was certainly extremely prevalent at the time and the Biblical account does include some mention of it. Still, as a Christian, I bristled at the moments when Jacob was made to seem overzealous or even irrational in his beliefs. 

All that being said, however, the idea of the story behind the story intrigued me. The Bible really offers little insight into the faiths of Leah, Rachel, or others in their community. Logically, it is quite possible that Jacob's family had a diverse range of beliefs, despite his fervor for the God of his fathers. While I would never view a book like this as anything more than fiction, it challenged be to perhaps think more broadly about the characters in the Bible we think we know so well. I have been challenged this way many times before (Dr. Miller's OT class rant on Esther, Cedarville people?), and this served as another good reminder for me.

Putting aside the Biblical interpretation (if such a thing truly ever can or should be done) and viewing this strictly as a work of literature, I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was an interesting drama with plenty to keep me reading and invested in the characters and their outcomes. Dinah's story is heartbreaking, no matter if you are reading a few sentences about the historical woman or a whole novel about the fictional character. I was pleased to see Diamant give her a happy ending and I can only hope the real woman experienced peace and comfort in her end as well.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: I wouldn't be surprised if I do.

A Reduced Review: If taken as purely fictional, The Red Tent proves a powerful read about family, feminity, and faith.
I'm proud to remind you that this book is on my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list.  I'm so excited I joined this challenge for the first time. I am enjoying having some structure to my TBR and the change to make intentional choices about what I read next. Make sure you check out the rest of my list and follow the challenge throughout the year. 

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