My Thoughts: The Red Tent

It’s been a long time since I wrote about a book. It isn’t that I haven’t been reading. I don’t know. I guess it’s just laziness. Anyway, The Red Tent was about 3 books ago. I’d never heard of it. My favourite English teacher (who has, in fact, never taught me) placed a bunch of books on my Kindle and so I picked one at random. (This is how I found The 40 Rules of Love as well.)


Author: Anita Diamant. She’s American.

Anita Diamant

Now I’m not sure whether he intentionally put religion-based novels on my Kindle or it’s just that those are the ones I happen to be picking. Well, this one is a story told from the POV of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah. Yes, the Biblical ones from Genesis. The only time I (and probably a lot of other Bible-story knowers) remember Dinah is from when she got raped and then her brothers circumcised every man in the town as punishment/payment for the loss of their sister’s virginity.

Now, I don’t know whether to call this a historical novel or not, because I’m not certain about how close to the truth historical novels have to be. This story has obviously been designed for fictitious purposes, not necessarily explanatory or informative ones. As such, it doesn’t seem to try to stick to facts (which we don’t, in actuality, know too much about, because Moses never went that deep) but is instead nearly loosely based on the people and events mid-Genesis. That’s all fine. I read on some blog or something a statement from the author, that her aim wasn’t to be historically accurate, but to tell a good story. And she did. =)

It was a book full of enough pain and hardship to make me uncomfortable – especially when it came down to matters of women: menstruation, pregnancy, marriage, heartbreak and all that. The “red tent” itself was the place that the women in Dinah’s family went to when they were on their periods. I thought it was interesting how women-centred the whole thing was, especially since it was set in a time where the dominant matter worthy of documentation was the life of the man. In The Red Tent, however, the men are really just background characters, among whom stuff happens, but life through their lens isn’t that important. Dinah, the child of Jacob to whom least Biblical attention was paid, is our protagonist, and the boys are mainly (at least from some point in the story) antagonists.

Now, there are some issues raised, concerning women – some discreet, some plainly depicted – but the story at least stays culturally historically accurate, in terms of the roles of women. There were mainly two kinds I saw in the book: housewives and midwives. But when the midwives weren’t delivering babies, they were being housewives. There were also the women in Dinah’s grandma’s anti-boy camp (she reminds me of Circe from The Sea of Monsters book, and thus probably the actual mythological Circe), but these were also minor characters.

I suppose most will not call this story a feminist one, but honestly, I saw it as such. It wasn’t so much a cry for equality, but more like a subtle highlighting of things that were wrong with the roles that women were expected to play and how they were treated.

This was a very good book, in a calm way. When I say good, I am not necessarily referring to the inherent quality of the writing but rather to how the book made me feel, as a reader. I didn’t flip out like I did with The Shadow of the Wind, for instance, and it didn’t make me glow like The 40 Rules of Love did. It was just nice, and naturally engrossing. Kind of like a lazy-day read. I had nearly forgotten what books like this felt like, so I spent too long waiting for it to get “interesting”. I forgot that there are books that actually describe day-to-day life, and not everything is as fast-paced as A Song of Ice and Fire.

It’s actually quite a profound story that gives you a lot of stuff to think about. Me, at a lot of points, I got scared just at the thought of being a girl/woman at that time and especially at the thought of giving birth. In that respect, it’s full of a lot of scary pain. =(

I like how the “rape” of the original Bible story was transformed into a fictional romance story instead. In this book, rape wasn’t even involved. It became a tragedy, full of unfair death – the most dramatic part of the whole novel, as it is also the most dramatic part (we have seen) of Biblical Dinah’s life.

But it was great! Full of creativity! And I really admire Anita Diamant’s skill. I just couldn’t understand how she could bear to vividly describe so much pain. If I had to write some of those scenes, I would just put my pen down/turn my computer off and start crying. I’m probably exaggerating – or maybe people just won’t react to the novel the same way I did.

Nevertheless, it really was a wholly beautiful story.

Favourite quotes:

“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.”

Although this sounds pretty profound, I feel like it doesn’t apply to me. My mother and I couldn’t be more different. I don’t know what she’d accurately be able to tell you about me.

“The flavour of gratitude is like the nectar of the hive.”


“Attending her sister’s births made her wish to become part of the great mother-mystery, which is bought with pain and repaid with an infant’s sparkling smile and silken skin.”

Given that I fear pain more than nearly anything, my reaction to this statement is mixed. Also, I have my own issues with bringing human beings into this world.

“You walked among queens, but you were alone.”

This was said in description of someone’s dream, but goodness, how profound it is! I feel like I can easily visualise it.

“Uttu went to the east, where the sun rises, but found the men had stolen the women’s tongues and they could not answer for themselves.”

Do I have to explain why this struck me? =(

“How could she find the courage to kill herself when she had no courage for life?”

The irony of suicide.

“I have seen my mother cradle too many dead babies,” she said. “And I heard Oholibama scream for three days before she gave up her life for Iti. I am not willing to suffer like that.”

Damn straight. -__-

“Only thieves come looking for business miracles.”

All of you people who be praying for millionaire status, I’m giving you side-eyes. LOL

“Our libations and prayers are of no more importance than birdsong or bee song. At least their praises are assured.”

This is in reference to religious attitudes towards a teraphim.

“Odd that he should not yet know how children stop serving their parents once they are grown. Even daughters.”

LIKE OMG YES! Why don’t they know?

“I am not unhappy,” she said. “Nor am I content. There is nothing in my heart. I care for no one and for nothing. I dream of dogs with bared teeth. I am dead. It is not so bad to be dead.”

May I never reach this stage of emptiness in my life – Amen.

“Death is no enemy, but the foundation of gratitude, sympathy, and art. Of all life’s pleasures, only love owes no debt to death.”




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