Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, granddaughter of Rebecca and Isaac, daughter-niece of Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah, was the only female child among Jacob’s wives, who had in total eleven boys. It wasn’t random then that her mother and mother-aunties doted on her, making her a part of the rituals happening inside The Red Tent, place where women spent their menstrual cycles isolated from men.
The Red Tent was a place for celebration—of femininity, childbirth, and subsequent recuperation. Women who entered it had to be of a fertile age. No wonder it was a secret that Dinah couldn’t share with her grandmother that she attended the Red Tent since she was a child.
It is described in Genesis, that Dinah was a victim of rape for which her brothers sought restitution. Anita Diamant aims to explore Dinah’s story from her perspective, giving voice to an alternative yet plausible event in Dinah’s life and that of her family, for the course of their lives was forever altered by this experience.
The Red Tent recounts Jacob’s wives’ stories, Dinah’s birth and childhood, the tragedy she underwent and what happened after.
I promised to read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant when I reviewed Exiles by Ron Hansen because of the religious themes in both novels. I took a trip to a Barnes & Noble bookstore last year and discovered this book quite by chance because it was placed on the shelf next to The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, which caught my eye. The front cover of The Red Tent advertised that it was the "10th anniversary edition", which usually indicates that a book has been a sensation at some point in the past. Lucky find, I say!
In The Red Tent, Anita Diamant brings to life the biblical world of Genesis, in all its sweeping glory. In it violence isn't gratuitous, though it is recurrent.
A sisterhood of women emerges through women's life cycles: childhood, mensis, motherhood. The world of the Red Tent is one of shared secrets, bitter rivalries, adoration of idols, magic, enchantment, and prophecies: fulfilled or otherwise; it is also the place where pain is not only borne physically but deep inside.
The story of Dinah reinvented by Diamant is one of great sorrow, laced with amazing interludes of female bonding, devotion and deep love. From The Red Tent emerges the image of loving, strong, resilient women who, in spite of living in a world governed by men, shape their lives and those whom they share them with.