The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant

Picador, USA, 1998. ISBN 0312195516.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/24/2005

Fiction: Spirituality

I was introduced to The Red Tent several years ago when it was first published. More than four years later, there are still passages from this amazing book that echo in my mind and heart. Recently, as I re-read it for the sheer pleasure of its amazing story, I discovered even more reasons to applaud Ms. Diamant's first work of fiction.

Through the voice of Dinah, the only surviving daughter of Jacob and his four wives Rachel, Leah, Zilpah and Bilhah readers are transported to Old Testament times and given a view of society from a female perspective. While Dinah is mentioned in passing in the Book of Genesis, this is a work of fiction. Those who have made mention that this is what the Bible would be like if it had been written by women miss the enduring qualities of truly good fiction—a universal theme, the ability to reach across generations and still speak common truths, and characters who transcend time and place as they bring to life the story they share.

The Red Tent offers readers much to applaud. Here is a study (albeit fictionalized) of female society in ancient times, a love story, a survey of the early practices of slavery, war and deception among men, a glimpse of the early place of mid-wifery in society, and the bonds of womanhood as a means of passing the important stories from one generation to the next.

Using the backdrop of "the red tent"—the literal place where women stayed during their menses and childbearing because they were thought to be "unclean" during those phases of their life cycle—Diamant creates a place where women share not only the physical bonds of womanhood but the emotional bonds as well.

The theme of women passing their stories from one generation to the next is paramount. Even today, in most cultures, it is the women who are entrusted with the storytelling of their generations. Through Dinaha's eyes and voice we are privy to the stories the ancient women of Old Testament times may have shared—those stories that never made it into the Old Testament because the scribes were males.

Today, more than 2000 years after Dinah, her story holds relevance and excitement, joy and sadness and common female bonds worth savoring—and passing along to future generations.

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