The Red Tent
Anita Diamant
book reviews:
· general fiction
· chick lit/romance
· sci-fi/fantasy
· graphic novels
· nonfiction
· audio books

Click here for the RSS Feed

· author interviews
· children's books @
· DVD reviews @

win books
buy online


for authors
& publishers

for reviewers

click here to learn more

Buy *The Red Tent* online

The Red Tent

Anita Diamant
322 pages
September 1998
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

buy this book now or browse millions of other great products at
previous reviewnext review

The Red Tent is a novel of biblical times (and of the customs of those times), detailing the imagined lives of Rachel and Leah, two wives of Jacob (both true biblical figures) and, subsequently, the imagined story of Dinah, the daughter of Leah, also a true biblical figure. The "red tent" of the title refers to the tent the women of the tribe remain in while experiencing their "time of the month" or while giving birth.

Rachel (Dinah's aunt), Leah (Dinah's mother), and later Dinah herself, all become midwives, helping other women who are delivering their babies. There is much "begetting" in the bible (so-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so and so on) and there is much begetting in this novel as well, except here we are given the end result of each "begat" in great detail:

"But I had no time to be sorry for myself, because suddenly a strange red bubble emerged from between Leah's legs and then, almost immediately, a flood of bloody water washed down her thighs. Leah tried to stand, terrified, but Inna told her not to take her feet off the bricks...Leah pushed, her face red, her eyes bulging, blue and green, glittering..."
That might be a little more description than some want. And the novel is replete with such scenes. This is a novel written by a woman, about women, and for women. I might be wrong but I don't think this book will have as much appeal to most men. I say this not to impugn the book's success at all, but merely as an observation. There is no reason (other than monetary) why every novel written should appeal to everyone. Men are certainly welcome to give the book a try. They might enjoy it and even learn in the process of reading it.

The novel is actually two books, each connected by the familial bonds of the people involved. The first, the story of Rachel and Leah, is the shorter of the two (only about 70 pages in length) and the less successful. The author (who has written nonfiction books previously, The Red Tent being her first novel) has many factual historical details on hand and peppers us with them in this section of the book -- so much so that it feels that one is reading more a detailed history of childbirthing than a real novel. Here, in this short fictional history of Rachel and Leah, there is little real underlying tension or drama to drive the book.

But that changes with the story of Dinah. Here is where the true novel begins. Here is where the author successfully leaves behind her nonfictional roots and creates a true novel. There is still much descriptive birthing but now there is true drama occurring as well. Dinah, just barely a woman, meets an Egyptian, Shalem, a handsome man of wealth and status and falls in love with him. He returns her love, and for a time the two engage in merry lovemaking. As was the custom of the time, Shalem's family attempts to "buy" Dinah from her family, making what appears to be a very fair offer. The king goes out of the city to Jacob's tribe and

"The king waved at a cart laden with goods and trailing sheep and goats. He declared them kin, soon to share a grandchild."
This shows respect for Dinah's family, but it is respect unrequited. Jacob, while masking his true feelings, is less than pleased over this proposed marriage of his daughter, as are his sons. We now have a kind of "Romeo and Juliet" scenario, a story of unfortunate star-crossed lovers whose families will destroy their very true and genuine love. What occurs next is quite shocking, and we soon have tragedy piled upon tragedy. It is well written, very compelling reading.

Some of the tragedies are of the bloodless kind, but no less heartbreaking. Dinah, now living with the Egyptians, gives birth to her lover's son, but

"When I woke up, my son was gone. Frightened, I tried to stand, but the pain kept me pinned to my bed. I cried out, and Meryt arrived with soft packing and unguents for my wounds. 'My son,' I said, in her language. She looked at me tenderly and replied, 'The baby is with his mother.' I thought I misunderstood her. Perhaps I had not used the right words."
Dinah's baby is taken from her in order that he might grow up as an Egyptian prince. He is even given a new name, an Egyptian name, and Dinah is forbidden ever to call her son by the name she originally gave him. She is told by her son's new "mother"
"You will be his nurse and he will know that you gave him life. His care will be your blessing, but he will call us both Ma and stay here until he is ready for school, and for this, you can be grateful. For this is my son, Re-mose, child of Re, that you have borne for me and my family."
Dinah has no option but to accept what is done to her. And we can feel her heart breaking. "You can be grateful", she is told, and, knowing the alternative, complete banishment or even death, she has no choice but to be grateful. She is allowed to be with her baby, and that will have to suffice.

That might very well be the ultimate lesson of this fine book. Most of us do not experience great glories and victories in life; rather, most of us gather our joys and small pleasures where and when we can, and the rest of the time we do what is necessary to survive. Dinah does no less. And does so with honor. She is thus an example for the common woman (and man), reminding us of the internal, silent and unsung glory that can occur inside each of us as we live our lives as best we can.

© 2003 by Mary B. Stuart for

More books by Anita Diamant:

buy *The Red Tent* online
click here for more info
Click here to learn more about this month's sponsor!

fiction · sf/f · comic books · nonfiction · audio
newsletter · free book contest · buy books online
review index · links · · authors & publishers

site by ELBO Computing Resources, Inc.