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The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

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Author: Anita Diamant / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 08 March 2002 / Genre: Historical Fiction / Publisher: Pan Macmillan / Title: The Red Tent / ISBN 13: 9780330487962 / ISBN 10: 0330487962

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      13.08.2012 18:19
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      A brilliant twist on an old Bible story

      For a while now, one of my friends has been 'encouraging' me to read one of her favourite books. Eventually I picked it up (well picked my kindle up) and settled down to read it. I couldn't remember for the life of me what she had said the book was about - but I'm glad I didn't because I may have been put off; and after reading it, I'm very glad I have read the Red Tent. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

      The basic premise of the Red Tent is the story of Dinah and the lives and traditions of her family - especially the female traditions of the family. As the only girl in the family, it is Dinah's responsibility to learn all the traditions that have been passed down over many generations so that she in turn can pass them on to her daughters. Oh and Dinah lives in Canaan, has 3 step-mothers, her father's name is Jacob and one of her twelve brothers is called Joseph...

      Now this may sound familiar to some of you; Dinah is a minor character in the story of Jacob and his sons. She is mentioned in the Bible (Genesis) as being 'defiled' by a prince who loved her, but it is only a brief mention and Dinah is very much a background personality. And considering the achievements of Joseph and their father, this could be considered understandable. In the Red Tent Anita Diamant tries, and in my opinion, succeeds in almost literally giving young Dinah a voice (the book is written in first person).

      The book begins with how Dinah's parents met and got married, as well as how Jacob also met and married his other wives, before returning to Dinah's present. Throughout the earlier stages of the book, there are 'flashbacks' as told by Dinah about her family's recent history; how they have lived, how her father built a successful farm, the birth of each of her brothers, and the arrival of her, a daughter to pass those essential traditions and tales on to. And where did Dinah learn these tales? In the Red Tent where women go together during menstruation and childbirth; a world apart from men (if only for a week).

      As a child, I have always loved Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat (a musical to those of you who may not know); the Red Tent allows me to explore that world more, and from a different point of view. I don't know how closely matched it is to the Bible, but from what little I know, the characters, the timeline and the main events matched. Anita Diamant just went on and built Dinah a life that we can experience and imagine. Dinah's life is interesting throughout; at times it is a happy life, at other times it is heart-breaking and at times it can leave you wondering what on earth just happened.

      I wouldn't say this is a happy story. I'd say I found it fascinating rather than happy. It was interesting to learn all the customs, and see Dinah's story unfold. Also, the differences between lands (such as Canaan and Egypt), their traditions, peoples and customs were intriguing and detailed; this gave an insight into the world of Dinah, and Joseph - minus the singing of course. It is a beautifully written book that kept me gripped from close to the beginning. Even when the situation looked dire, I could not put the book down (which wasn't good considering I was supposed to be writing an essay!). I could picture Dinah's world clearly and it was refreshing to see that era from a different perspective - especially a woman's perspective.

      Overall, I'd say this book is worth a read. Don't worry about it being religious - other than the worship of some idols at times (again highlighting some of their traditions); there aren't many religious mentions in the book. It is a story of a young girl's life, learning the ways of her mothers and finding her own path in the world. The book is suitable for older teenagers and adults, as there are some slightly graphic moments (more gory than anything else), but you can always read it before giving it to a younger reader - and it gives you an excuse to read the book yourself! Just perhaps have some hankies, a good drink, comfy chair and some free hours to curl up with this book!

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        31.05.2011 20:10
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        An incredible fresh perspective on an old biblical tale.

        This is my first review, so please bear with me.

        The Red Tent tells the story of Dinah, only daughter of Jacob. The bible tells us of Dinah existence as a victim, but it's not really her story we are familiar with; it's her father and her brother's stories that have lived on as the tales of brave men.

        Anita Diamant, though, reimagines this story and magically weaves the story Dinah's life; her mothers' (Jacob had more than one wife, and each took a role in raising all of Jacob's children) and her everyday lifestyle around the already well known stories of the men in her life. She tells the tale of a passionate, headstrong, brave woman who is far from a victim.

        The book is fresh and compelling. I struggled to put the book down and, more importantly, I didn't want to. I wanted to soak in Dinah's world, her hopes and dreams. I loved how the narrative which begins as relatively immature, slowly matures and blossoms; you find yourself relating to this incredible woman (regardless of your own age) and despite the immeasurable differences between her life and your own.

        The story made me laugh and cry. It's an adventurs story, an epic romance, a celebration of womanhood and it's the women who shine in this tale, not the men. I adored this book and highly recommend it.

        Do not be put off by the biblical element, this really is a fiction book. It is, in no way trying to force religion on you. If nothing else it's a wonderful story of a woman who lived, and loved many years ago.

        I will finish this review with my favourite quote from the book, which also happens to be the last line of the book; wherever you walk, I go with you. This book, which gives us new insight into the lives and views of biblical women, is simply incredible and really will never leave you. Simply unforgettable.

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        22.12.2010 17:52
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        An interesting novel which I could have enjoyed more

        I did not want to read The Red Tent. In the blurb on the back I was informed that the book was about a girl called Dinah who is a character from a bible story. As an atheist, I had no desire to read about some bible character. Yet I did read The Red Tent - it was for my reading group, and the knowledge that the whole point of the group is to read things we might not otherwise try, in order to broaden our reading experience, overcame my dislike.

        Anita Diamant has taken the character of Dinah, daughter of Jacob whose many sons include Joseph (here's a bible character I know of, thanks to the all singing all dancing version of his story), and created a story for her. According to the blurb on the book, Dinah's fate is merely "hinted at" in the bible, so what Diamant has done is extrapolated the story based on what is said in the bible and knowledge of the time.

        Despite my feelings about the text that this is based on, I do like the concept of basing one work of fiction upon a side character from another. It could be argued that there is a lack of originality in doing this, and that may be true, but in order to do this successfully, other talents are needed. The author must stay true to the original story and setting, and make their work fit well with that original.

        The character of Dinah isn't entirely likeable, she has a tendency to be a bit annoying and pathetic, particularly during her youth, but the world that she lives in is fascinating. Diamant does a remarkable job of bringing this culture and landscape to life, so much so that the sounds and smells of the time seem to be very close to coming out of the page. The way of life of Dinah's family is so different to how we live today, yet thanks to Diamant's writing, I questioned it very little. The only points I was mildly surprised at were that I had no idea biblical characters engaged in polygamy and bestiality. ..

        The Red Tent is really a book of two parts. Dinah's youth is spent in a fairly secluded camp with her immediate (and large) family. While the action may be slow during this time, Diamant floods the page with culture and life, so that she creates a rich picture of life in the camp.

        However, the family later moves near to a town, where Jacob was born, and things begin to change. There is one event which changes everything forever, and this is the catalyst for the second part of the book. Having never read the bible, this event was a huge shock to me - maybe you all know it, but I won't tell just in case. Dinah's reaction to this was when things began to go downhill in the novel. She curses all the men in her family, which for me just didn't fit with her previous character - she was not a terribly spiritual girl. Following this, the second part of The Red Tent is largely rather pedestrian and bland. Not a great deal happens, and Diamant seems to have run out of steam for bringing the environment to life.

        I found it very difficult to relax and fully enjoy The Red Tent, because I knew it was based on a bible story. If I hadn't read that on the back of the book, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed it - I suspect I would have realised at some point that Dinah's brother Joseph was him of the technicolour dreamcoat (I was humming the songs from the show all through the book, hence my title here), but I think I would have been much more relaxed while reading The Red Tent. By the time I did relax a little, I was into the dull second part of the book. While I did, on the whole, enjoy The Red Tent, I could have enjoyed it more and I was disappointed with the second part of the story.

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          25.10.2009 17:00
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          Exceptional first novel that recreates the ancient world with a full cast of characters

          "Yes, but what of the women?"

          Over the centuries, this plea has been uttered by countless women who have sought a reflection of themselves in the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity. Because these texts were almost universally written, interpreted, and canonized by men, little of the spiritual history of women was preserved. Still, despite patriarchal control, hints of the power and wisdom of women survived: The Mosaic tradition that created the Torah left us with the astonishing portrait of the prophetess Devorah (meaning "Oracle"), who served as the political and religious leader of her people. And whereas the misogynistic Paul of Christian scripture decreed that women should keep silent in the churches, a far more magnanimous Paul sent greetings to several woman who were actually leaders of the early church, including the deaconess Phoebe at Cenchrea.

          In response to the relative absence of role models in capacities other than as wives and mothers, feminist theologians have in recent decades called on time-honored techniques to restore women--and the female side of the Supreme Deity--to their rightful place within the modern religious dialog. Thus, by applying a midrashic formula (taking sacred texts and supplementing them with information gleaned from Jewish folklore, literary and archeological evidence from the ancient past, plus a fair measure of psychology and inspiration) Anita Diamant has recreated the life of Dinah (pronounced "Dee-nah"), daughter of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob and his first wife Leah. The result is the delicious fiction of The Red Tent.

          The Red Tent is a remarkable portrait of the lives of women in the ancient world--their joys and their triumphs as well as their often prescribed circumstances. Of Dinah, the central character, we know from the Bible that she was raped by a prince of the city of Shechem and that her brothers, led by Simon and Levi, wreaked a terrible and--even by Biblical reckoning--dishonorable revenge. We also know from the Biblical account that Dinah had "gone out to seek the women of the land." Traditional commentaries interpret this latter observation to mean that Jacob's daughter had somehow caused her own rape through inappropriate behavior--by leaving the safety of her home and going out on her own among foreign women.

          Diamant's Dinah turns the ancient tale on its head. Telling her own story, as opposed to having it told by her father and brothers, Dinah corrects the record by returning her life's story to the keeping of women. In so doing she introduces her audience to the world of the red tent--a place where women honored the rise of each new moon and the moon flow of their own bodies by seeking seclusion from the world of men. As presented by Diamant, the seclusion of the red tent was a celebration controlled by women, not a segregation required by men. It was a world governed by women's rituals and honoring the pantheon of gods that ordered their daily lives. It was a time of rest and renewal, not of banishment for being "unclean."

          This Dinah was an only daughter nurtured by the four wives of Jacob--four sisters whom she honors as her beloved "mothers," each one bestowing her with special gifts. This Dinah shared a childhood with her famous brother Joseph and, like him, suffered a supreme betrayal by her jealous brothers. This Dinah went out among the women of the land to practice the ancient craft of midwifery, not to behave wantonly in the midst of foreigners. This Dinah was not raped, but dared to make her own choice on matters of love and sex--a choice that the Biblical account admits earned a fabulous bride price for her father, up to and including the circumcision of all males living in her prince's city. And this Dinah responded to her brothers' betrayal by hurling a curse on the men of her family and seeking refuge among her mother-in-law's people, the ancient Egyptians.

          Indeed, Diamant herself has chosen well by focusing on Dinah as her heroine. The story of Joseph and his many-colored coat and of the dishonorable behavior of his older brothers, once again led by Simon and Levi, make their betrayal of Dinah imminently believable. If such brothers would sell their father's favorite child into slavery out of petty jealousy, what wouldn't they do to preserve their advantage against a sister who was positioned to become queen over the land in which they dwelt? According to Genesis, they slipped into Shechem under cover of darkness, while the men of the city slept feverishly from the pain of their mass circumcision. Then the brothers murdered every male (including infants), looted the city's riches, and abducted and despoiled the women of their choice. So much for Dinah's wanton behavior!

          The Genesis account of Dinah ends with her rape and her brothers' revenge. Diamant's historical novel goes on to establish the rhythm of her heroine's life in Egypt--a long life filled with the details of widowhood, motherhood, her vocation as midwife, and a new marriage to a kind and gentle man. It visualizes the impact of her reunion with Joseph at the height of his power as the pharaoh's grand vizier and of her anonymous reunion with her patriarchal family during its sojourn in Egypt. And in the end, Diamant's conclusion is a woman's conclusion: what really matters in life is love, supplemented by a full measure of personal honor. Position and power as exemplified by Jacob and his sons, including the famous Joseph, are inadequate as the basis of a fulfilling life and a meaningful legacy. Power only has value when it is tempered by love, honor, and wisdom.

          If Diamant's novel has a flaw, it is in that she has been unable to escape fully the stereotypes of male and female traits in dealing with her characters. Perhaps it is inevitable that this should be so, given the state of female character development in the scriptures. To take the feminist corrective from this novel would undermine its effectiveness. All things considered, Diamant is more generous than most of her male and female colleagues in attributing positive and negative traits to characters of both sexes. Besides, it is not her purpose to create a milieu in which men and woman are alike. Rather she aims toward restoring woman to a credible presence in the ancient world, and in that, she succeeds brilliantly.

          © LovesTravel/DAnneC

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            13.02.2009 23:03
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            One of the best books that I have ever read

            The Red Tent is an amazing work of historical fiction by Anita Diamont. It follows the life of Dinah, the sister of Joseph (of technicolor dreamcoat fame). The book can be largely divided into 3 stages, Dinah's life as a child, Dinah's life in the palace, and Dinah as an independent adult. By far the longest and most detailed of these sections is Dinah's life as a child. Her life is amongst the women in the camp, and I found the historical detail provided about how women lived in these times absolutely fascinating. Dinah is daughter to the first of Jacob's wives, and so is the true sister of Joseph. The title 'The Red Tent' comes from the name of the tent the women go to each month when they have their period, and have to remain seperated from the men. While the book is primarily a work of fiction, the book is closely tied into the stories written into the bible, and is both biblically and historically accurate. I thought the writing style in this book was intense and poetic, I really felt close to Dinah, and found her a well rounded character. While I found the pace of the book was a bit uneven towards the end, I can not fault the early chapters set within the camp. Various themes, such as that of water are continued throughout the book, and Dinah comes across as an unusual and special woman. I felt the book was well researched and structured, and I was very happy that Dinah found peace in her life.

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            29.07.2003 17:37
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            The Red Tent is a beautifully written novel about Dinah, the daughter of the Biblical Patriarch Jacob. There is only a brief mention of Dinah in the Bible, a traumatic story of rape and vengeance but Anita Diamant has taken this and filled in the gaps. She has carefully woven silk into the rough wool that is the biblical story and created a rich luxurious tapestry of the life of the women. In the prologue Dinah addresses us - the women of today: "And now you come to me - women with hand and feet as soft as a queen's, with more cooking pots than you need, so safe in childbed and so free with your tongues. You come hungry for the story that was lost. You crave words to fill the great silence that swallowed me, and my mothers, and my grandmothers before them." The Red Tent is the place that Jacob's women retreat to once a month at the time of the dark moon. Apparently if living a natural life by the light of the heavens it is natural for women to bleed at the time of the dark moon and ovulate at the full moon. There, in the protective confines of the red tent, sitting on straw the women share their secrets, their stories, their joy and pain and take respite from the hardships of their everyday life. As the only daughter of Jacob Dinah is privileged to share the tent before her proper time and here she learns the stories of her mothers which she in turn tells to us. (Jacob had four wives and Dinah considers them all to be her mothers in some sense). The first part of the book is My Mothers' stories, stories told to Dinah by and about Jacob's wives. These follow but beautifully embellish the biblical stories and take us up to the traumatic birth of Joseph who becomes Dinah's closest companion as a child. The second part 'My Story' again loosely follows the biblical stories but because it is her story the rape of Dinah has a different perspective. In Diamant's version Dinah was n
            ot raped but was deeply and passionately in love with the Egyptian Prince of Shechem whom her brothers brutally slaughtered while she lay in his arms. In the third part , simply entitled 'Egypt', Dinah, now estranged from her family after cursing them in hatred, goes to Egypt with her mother in law. This part of the story has no link with the biblical stories at all apart from a few loose references. There she discovers she is pregnant. As if she hasn't had enough pain already Dinah suffers even more when her child is taken from her to be raised as a prince. But her story continues and she strives to rebuild her life in a strange land with strange customs. The end of the story is poignant but even in her death Dinah continues to live. The biblical stories and in fact most of history has been written and transmitted by men. This book is a testament from the other side. This is a herstory. The focus is almost entirely on the women the men are almost incidental in a way. Where the men are mentioned I think they have been slightly romanticised but as this is not their story I think Diamant can be forgiven. The women celebrate each month offering worship to the great mother, queen of heaven, who is the mother of all and who gives life. In the US some people objected that the book introduces a 'pagan' element into the bible that was not there. But in my opinion it actually it was there and Diamant's portrayal is quite plausible. Diamant has written several other non fiction books about Jewish life and obviously knows her stuff. In the red tent the women share womanly secrets of childbirth and contraception, herbal lore, despair and death. Birth scenes abound and some are thigh clenchingly graphic. Dinah's first menstruation is celebrated by a strange moving ritual. In Dinah's world, but not in all her contemporaries menstruation is not a curse but something to celebrate, childbirth also takes
            on a collective joy. Skills are passed from mothers to daughter and Dinah becomes an accomplished midwife. No woman could read this book without being moved, Dinah expresses intimate emotions of a woman through all her ages. From the innocence of childhood, through stirrings of puberty, womanhood, and old age, passionate love, grief and hatred, compassion - nothing is omitted. It is more than a novel it is a celebration of every woman who lived and loved in a patriarchal society I wanted to read this book after reading a review in a magazine mainly because I am interested in biblical stories and thought that it was an unusual subject. Having read it I would cheerfully recommend it to anyone whether they are interested in the Bible or not.(However, although I would recommend it to everyone I'm not sure men would appreciate it as much as women.) The writing is passionate and inspirational; you will be taken into another time and place and be drawn into it. You will smell the herbs, suffer the harsh environment, laugh and cry with the women and you will say to all your friends 'Have you read the Red Tent?'

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              17.07.2002 20:27
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              Every so often you read a book that takes you out of yourself to such an extent that you literally lose all sense of your surroundings. You can be sitting on a bus, or sunbathing by a crowded hotel pool, with tears running down your face, occasionally punching your fist in the air in triumph for characters that have completely stolen your soul. This is how 'The Red Tent' affected me. I was moved, staggered and overwhelmed by the strength of the world Anita Diamant introduced me to, the world of the Old Testament, the familiar characters of Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and the women. Oh yes, the women. Sidelined and silenced up to this point, they have finally been given a voice. And what a voice! Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, is the central character of this novel, and through her we learn the stories of all the women that make up Jacob's family, who share a closeness that none of the men are aware of and would be horrified to learn. In the first half of the book we hear the women?s stories through Dinah's compelling narrative. The women share everything, there are no secrets between them. We learn the intimate details of Jacobs' relationship with his five wives, who are all sisters. We hear tales of childbirth, death, pain and joy. The women share their stories in the 'red tent' where every menstruating woman must spend three days of the month away from the men, a welcome break which they look forward to wholeheartedly. In the Bible, Dinah is mentioned briefly and made out to be a victim, raped by an Egyptian prince, and avenged by her brothers, who slaughter the prince, his family, and every male member of his city. Diamant paints a different story. She imagines an alternative possibility, that Dinah fell in love and that the men in her family were too angered by her attempt to make her own choices to allow the match. In her imagined version of the age old tale, Dinah's Prince loves her en
              ough to agree to the brutal terms of her fathers acceptance of their marriage, and undergoes a painful circumsion along with the rest of the men in his command, only for them all to be slaughtered in the middle of the night. Diamant imagines Dinah?s grief and rage and the terrifying picture of her returning to her family to curse her father, her brothers, and every single male member of the family. Of course, in those days the men wrote the history, so their version of the story is the one that became written down and remembered, whilst Dinah's true fate was remembered only in legends passed from mothers to daughters, sisters and aunts. The second half of the book follows Dinah as she struggles to rebuild her life after the shattering tragedy she has experienced. Pregnant with her dead lovers baby, and out of her mind with grief and horror, she travels to a distant land, births a child who destined to become a royal prince, and chooses a simple life using her skills as a midwife to assist women in birth. But Dinah is fated to meet some of her family again, and the book slowly builds to a powerful climax as she finds even more strength to deal with what life has to throw at her. This book made me feel proud to be female. Dinah's strength and passion, although they may exist only in the mind of the author, shout out across the centuries and make you wonder about the other hidden stories, the stories of all the women who were not allowed to tell their tales. The history and literature of the past was written by men and half the stories are left untold, or manipulated to resemble nothing like the truth. Diamants style of writing is fluid and beautiful. She intersperses images of the harsh desert environment with the contrasting beauty and gentle power of the women, and the rhythms of their lives. The pain and terror of childbirth, its association with death, along with the joy of a successful birth, are brought to life, and the
              births that she describes could not be more removed from modern childbirth, which has become mechanical and demystified in this clinical, scientific age. Lovers of the Old Testamant will find much to enjoy in this book. It's a chance to consider some of the old stories from a different, fresh perspective. But I believe this book will appeal mainly to women readers who cannot fail to empathise with Dinah?s struggles and achievements, and the bravery of all the women in this novel. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

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