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Red Tent (Diamant)

The Red Tent 
Anita Diamant, 1998
Macmillan Picador

336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312195519


Summary
Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable contribution in modern fiction: a new perspective of female life in biblical society. It is a vast and stirring work described as what the Bible might have been had it been written by God's daughters instead of sons.

Far beyond the traditional women-of-the-Bible sagas in both impact and vigor, The Red Tent is based upon a mention in Genesis of Jacob's only female offspring—his daughter, Dinah.

Author Anita Diamant, in the voice of Dinah, gives an insider's look at the details of women's lives in biblical times and a chronicle of their earthy stories and long-ignored histories. The red tent of the title is the place where women were sequestered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and illness. It is here that Dinah hears the whispered stories of her four mothers—Jacob's wives Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah—and tells their tales to us in remarkable and thought-provoking oratories. Familiar passages from the Bible take on new life as Dinah fills in what the Bible has left out—the lives of women. Dinah tells us of her initiation into the religious and sexual practices of the tribe; Jacob's courtship with Rachel and Leah; the ancient world of caravans, farmers, midwives, and slaves; her ill-fated sojourn in the city of Sechem; her years in Canaan; and her half-brother Joseph's rise in Egypt.

Skillfully interweaving biblical tales with characters of her own invention, the author re-creates the life of Dinah providing an illuminating portrait of a courageous woman and the life she might have lived. A new view of the panorama of life in biblical times emerges from the femaleperspective, and the red tent itself becomes a symbol of womanly strength, love, and wisdom.

The Red Tent is one of those extremely rare publishing phenomenons—a little promoted, but dynamically successful book (over 250,000 copies sold) that owes its success to enthusiastic word-of-mouth endorsements. (From the publisher.). (From the publisher.)



Author Bio  
Birth—June 27, 1951
Where—New York, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Washington University; M.A., State
   University of New York, Binghamton
Currently—lives in Boston, Massachusetts


Anita Diamant is a prize-winning journalist whose work has appeared regularly in the Boston Globe Magazine and Parenting magazine. She is the author of five books about contemporary Jewish practice: Choosing a Jewish Life, Bible Baby Names, The New Jewish Baby Book, The New Jewish Wedding, and Living a Jewish Life (with H. Cooper). She lives in West Newton, MA, with her husband and daughter, Emilia, to whom the book is dedicated.

Diamant says it was the relationship between Leah and Rachel that stimulated her thinking about The Red Tent.

The Biblical story that pits the two sisters against one another never sat right with me. The traditional view of Leah as the ugly and/or spiteful sister, and of Jacob as indifferent to her, seemed odd in light of the fact that the Bible gives them nine children together.... As I re-read Genesis over the years, I settled on the story of Dinah, their daughter. The drama and her total silence (Dinah does not utter a single word in the Bible) cried out for explanation, and I decided to imagine one.

Aiding her work was "midrash," the ancient and still vital literary form, which means "search" or "investigation."

Historically, the rabbis used this highly imaginative form of storytelling to make sense of the elliptical nature of the Bible-to explain, for example, why Cain killed Abel...The compressed stories and images in the Bible are rather like photographs. They don't tell us everything we want or need to know. Midrash is the story about what happened before and after the photographic flash.

She points out that...

The Red Tent is not a translation but a work of fiction. Its perspective and focus-by and about the female characters-distinguishes it from the Biblical account in which women are usually peripheral and often totally silent. By giving Dinah a voice and by providing texture and content to the sketchy Biblical descriptions, my book is a radical departure from the historical text.

Extras
From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:

• I would like to pay tribute to my writing group: Stephen McCauley (The Object of My Affection) and Amy Hoffman (Hospital Time, a memoir). Steve and Amy kept me sane through the writing and rewriting (and rewriting) of The Last Days of Dogtown.

• My writing group meets approximately once a month. We share our chapters, we commiserate about the difficulties of the business of writing. And we keep each other from throwing in the towel, which often feels like the only reasonable choice.

• I'm nuts about my dog, a miniature Schnauzer named Buddy. He is my exercise machine, but more than that, he is a dependable antidote to the mopes. Dogs are always in a good mood.I think that yoga is the alternative to aging. I've been taking classes for more than ten years, and while I consider myself a beginner, yoga is crucial to my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I wish there were yoga classes in airports, high schools, hospitals—wherever stress abides.

• When asked what book most influenced her career in writing, her is her response:

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. My non-fiction heroine, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, wrote more than 26 books—most of which are about the pleasures of the table. Responding to questions about why her subject was food rather than loftier topics, Fisher (1908 - 1992) wrote, "It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others." For Fisher, eating was a metaphor for everything that is most important in life, and she ate reverently, ravenously, and with exquisite attention to what was on her plate. She is often credited with inventing the genre known as "food writing," but this prose master defies categorization. I should only write so well, eat so well, live so well. She inspired me as a journalist, as a non-fiction writer, and as a prose stylist. (Author bio and intervciew from Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews 
Diamant vividly conjures up the ancient world of caravans, shepherds, farmers, midwives, slaves, and artisans.... Her Dinah is a compelling narrator that has timeless resonance.
Merle Rubin - Christian Science Monitor


Skillfully interweaving biblical tales with events and characters of her own invention, Diamant's (Living a Jewish Life, 1991) sweeping first novel re-creates the life of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, from her birth and happy childhood in Mesopotamia through her years in Canaan and death in Egypt. When Dinah reaches puberty and enters the Red Tent (the place women visit to give birth or have their monthly periods), her mother and Jacob's three other wives initiate her into the religious and sexual practices of the tribe. Diamant sympathetically describes Dinah's doomed relationship with Shalem, son of a ruler of Shechem, and his brutal death at the hands of her brothers. Following the events in Canaan, a pregnant Dinah travels to Egypt, where she becomes a noted midwife. Diamant has written a thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating portrait of a fascinating woman and the life she might have lived. Recommended for all public libraries. —Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Library Journal


Cubits beyond most Woman-of-the-Bible sagas in sweep and vigor, this fictive flight based on the Genesis mention of Dinah, offspring of Jacob and Leah, disclaims her as a mere "defiled" victim and, further, celebrates the ancient continuity and unity of women. Dinah was the cherished only daughter of "four mothers," all of whom bore sons by Jacob. It is through daughters, though, that the songs, stories, and wisdom of the mothers and grandmothers are remembered. Dinah tells the mothers' tales from the time that that shaggy stranger Jacob appears in the land of his distant kin Laban. There are Jacob's marriages to the beautiful Rachel and the competent Leah, "reeking of bread and comfort." Also bedded are Zilpah, a goddess worshipper who has little use for men, and tiny, dark, and silent Bilhah. Hard-working Jacob is considerate to the equally hard-working women, who, in the "red tent"—where they're sequestered at times of monthly cycles, birthing, and illness—take comfort and courage from one another and household gods. The trek to Canaan, after Jacob outwits Laban, offers Dinah wonders, from that "time out of life" when the traveling men and women laugh and sing together, on to Dinah's first scent of a great river, "heady as incense, heavy and dark." She observes the odd reunion of Jacob and Esau, meets her cruel and proud grandmother, and celebrates the women's rite of maturity. She also loves passionately the handsome Prince Shalem, who expects to marry her. Dinah's tale then follows the biblical account as Jacob's sons trick and then slaughter a kingdom. Diamant's Dinah, mad with grief, flees to Egypt, gives birth to a son, suffers, and eventually finds love and peace. With stirring scenery and a narrative of force and color, a readable tale marked by hortatory fulminations and voluptuous lamentations. For a liberal Bible audience.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. Read Genesis 34 and discuss how The Red Tent changes your perspective on Dinah's story and also on the story of Joseph that follows. Does The Red Tent raise questions about other women in the Bible? Does it make you want to re-read the Bible and imagine other untold stories that lay hidden between the lines?

2. Discuss the marital dynamics of Jacob's family. He has four wives; compare his relationship with each woman?

3. What do you make of the relationships among the four wives?

4. Dinah is rich in "mothers." Discuss the differences or similarities in her relationship with each woman.

5. Childbearing and childbirth are central to The Red Tent. How do the fertility childbearing and birthing practices differ from contemporary life? How are they similar? How do they compare with your own experiences as a mother or father?

6. Discuss Jacob's role as a father. Does he treat Dinah differently from his sons? Does he feel differently about her? If so, how?

7. Discuss Dinah's twelve brothers. Discuss their relationships with each other, with Dinah, and with Jacob and his four wives. Are they a close family?

8. Female relationships figure largely in The Red Tent. Discuss the importance of Inna, Tabea, Werenro, and Meryt.

9. In the novel, Rebecca is presented as an Oracle. Goddesses are venerated along with gods. What do you think of this culture, in which the Feminine has not yet been totally divorced from the Divine? How does El, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, fit into this?

10. Dinah's point of view is often one of an outsider, an observer. What effect does this have on the narrative? What effect does this have on the reader?

11. The book travels from Haran (contemporary Iraq/Syria), through Canaan and into Shechem (Israel), and into Egypt. What strikes you about the cultural differences Dinah encounters vis-à-vis food, clothing, work, and male-female relationships.

12. In The Red Tent, we see Dinah grow from childhood to old age. Discuss how she changes and matures. What lessons does she learn from life? If you had to pick a single word to describe the sum of her life, what word would you choose? How would Dinah describe her own life experience?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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