Thursday, August 10, 2006
The Red Tent (1997) Anita Diamant
A co-worker who also loves to read loaned me this book. She said she enjoyed it, and thought I might as well. Of course my problem was that my “to read” list is pretty much ridiculous, so I had to force myself to put aside some of the lighter reading I’ve been doing, so that I wouldn’t keep this book forever.
Although the story is told by DInah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, it goes back to the meeting of Rachel and Jacob, and how Jacob came to marry Dinah’s mother and her three aunts. From there it goes on to tell Dinah’s own story, how her brothers schemed and killed her husband and his entire family.
If this is sounding familiar, then you’re recognizing the basic story from Genesis. The Red Tent is the story of Jacob from the point of view of Jacob’s wives and daughters. What it also does is attempt to explain these stories–how would a man come to marry sisters? What happened to Dinah after her brothers slaughtered Shalem?
It describes the lives of these women: how the sisters managed to share a husband and a household; how these women might have been as strong as Sarah, the wife of Abraham, as much as they were the pawns of the men who traded and sold them.
This is a very interesting book, and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t as gripping as my usual fare–books that I can’t put doing because I have to know what happens next–but then the main story is already known, what was lacking is the details. But the characters are fascinating. It’s nigh near impossible to imagine not just sharing one’s husband, but sharing one’s husband with sisters. Not that I have sisters, but siblings are siblings, and jealous runs far deeper in siblings than anywhere else.
It also brings Dinah out of the background of her own story. In Genesis she takes no action herself but is acted upon. In The Red Tent she is no longer silent. It also highlights the horror of the actions of her brothers. The idea of initiating someone into your religious rights, and then slaying them while they are too weak to defend themselves is extremely disturbing.
I liked the writing, and enjoyed the story. I’m not sure if this is a book I would ever read again, but that doesn’t reflect on the quality of the story, only upon my tastes. I enjoy novels, but I typically don’t want to reread them they way I reread fantasy and mystery.