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Cannonball Read IV: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

By gorvitron | Book Reviews | July 10, 2012 | Comments ()


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I spent 6 years in Jewish day school learning the traditional stories of the Old Testament- the glorified tales of the patriarchs, of the matriarchs, and of the offspring of their fertile wombs. The Red Tent is a novelized version of the Biblical chapter of Jacob, his wives, and their many children, narrated by Jacob's sole female heir, Dinah.

While the Old Testament gives us a bare bone script of what happened in the land of Canaan, The Red Tent concocts a rich world of humanity that brings these renowned but distant characters into full view. We come to know Rachel & Leah not just as Jacob's wives, and two of the matriarchs of Judaism, but as complex women dealing with the ancient struggles that accompanied everyday life during that time period. And of course we peak into the lives of Jacob and his twelve sons, witnessing the fraternal conflicts, the petty backstabbing, and the oft times brutal vying for power amongst this clan. But the power of The Red Tent lies not in its ability to weave a compelling story about a group of people we've only known on the surface, but rather in its humanization of these Biblical icons. We empathize with their longings and their sadness, we applaud their coups and their happiness, and we come to know them as human beings who aren't all that different from us.

The Red Tent subtly acts as a rebuff to the phallocentric Biblical telling of what went down within the family of Jacob and gives voice to the powerful women of his tribe. The portrait of Dinah in this novel is one of a strong-willed, intelligent woman whose anachronistic sense of justice is enviable. Her mothers too are showcased as kind, skilled women, in whose hands the future of Jacob and his offspring lies. This takes a more literal form as the skill of midwifing is passed along throughout the story.

Overall, an interesting read, especially if you have any sort of religious background, but not most the skillfully written novel. Diamant clearly has a knack for the imaginative, but her ability to craft a sentence that leaves you in love with words isn't quite up to par.

For more of gorvitron's reviews, check out her blog, of words. & stories. & ampersands..

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • Bodhi

    I read this several years ago & while I mostly liked it, I also found her writing style lacking. I should re-read it though. I have a BA in Religious Studies & I always find it interesting to read novels set in biblical times

  • ach10

    I loved this book and appreciate your review, but if you're going to talk about an author's inability to craft a sentence, be sure to check your own content for errors first. "but not most the skillfully written novel" -- really?

  • I loooooved this book. It's by far one of the best books about women that I've ever read.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    It's true I don't remember loving this book for its style - however, it was not poorly written either. I really enjoyed this book, and I thought it did a fantastic job of making clear just how violent the violent episodes in the Bible can be.

    Also, I'm always undecided as to whether I want my own Red Tent. I'm not sure I like the idea of it being mandatory, but I'm not sure it's as effective if it's not.

    Last month I read her book The Last Days of Dogtown. That's good in a different way. Almost a series of character sketches, but beautifully realized.

  • Stella

    I remember LOVING this book back when I was in my post-college, post post feminist reading phase. I remember the book as being a revelation in showcasing the daily life of that time. Given some of the comments, though, perhaps it's time to reread the book and see if it's held up over the years.

  • Inaras

    'Subtle' isn't a word I would ever use to describe anything about this book. I've seen shows by Shonda Rimes with more nuance. And WTF was up with the homophobia surrounding Joseph? If you're going to rewrite history to turn ancient Canaan into a feminist paradise, why preserve ancient Egypt's historically accurate homophobia? A fantasy where every female character is a modern liberal except when it comes to boys kissing is...problematic to say the least.

  • I read this maybe two years ago? I found it to be pretty fascinating, in a Thank God for Tampax sort of way.

  • Though I kind of love the idea of being able to hide away from the world for three days out of the month.

  • Banana

    I started reading this after my mom lent it to me; I couldn't get past the 5th chapter or so! I found it really depressing for some reason. Maybe I should have given it more of a chance.

  • Nyltiak

    I really enjoyed the first part, but I felt that the second kind of devolved into romance novel-esque frivolity. I wish she'd just ended it when they leave for Egypt.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I read this a long time ago, I'm definitely due for a re-read. Thanks for the review!

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