The Red Tent
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is a novel which caught my eye in a bookshop many moons ago, listed in the back of my mind as a 'To Read' and never actually came to read it until roughly 12 years later, as a result of it slipping in and out of recall.
The novel is the story of Dinah, the only daughter born to the famous Jacob of many sons of the Bible (and the musical), his four wives, all apparently siblings and Dinah's entire life story from when her father met her mothers to her eventual death.
Though Dinah is a Biblical character, not much was known about her, apart from one main biblical story around which Diamant weaves the most dramatic section of narrative, so in general Diamant was free to build the picture of Dinah she chose.
It is beautifully done. In many ways The Red Tent is a very female very feminist novel, The Red Tent itself being the place the women retreated to from the general family camp whilst they bled at the new moon. There is a huge focus on sexual awakening, menstruation, womanhood and the entry into womanhood, and fertility in general. The story follows the Biblical emphasis on the woman providing her husbands legacy, providing him with sons, the joy of being able to do this and the heartbreak of being unable.
The book also looks at the secrets of women, their private conversations, feelings, superstitions and rituals, kept sacred from the men in the privacy of the Red Tent, and childbirth itself too, a private process of pain, fear and delight dealt with only by women.
In many ways the barriers between men and women's lives are now broken down, and so it is interesting to see this separation of the two, the clear lines between the female world and the male, down to the stories the two genders pass on, the heritage they feel is worth telling. It is another time and in many ways another world.
The prose is very beautiful and I connected with it straight away and had read the book in hours, it was poetic and had a hypnotic quality, you really felt like you could picture the characters and their surroundings, the atmosphere was great.
Dinah's story is in many ways sad, reflecting the difficult lot of women at the time, the loss of which many, though of course not all, modern women can be thankful for, but it is also somehow sad to see that this private culture and camaraderie between women, also broken with the passage of time.
I really enjoyed this book, and read it in one day within a seven hour period. When a book grabs you like this, and doesn't let go, you know it's quite special and this book is surely, particularly for women worth the read 9/10