Friday, 22 August 2014

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

I liked but didn't love this book, although that might be because I found the last third of it less compelling than the first two-thirds. The Red Tent is an imagining of the story of Dinah, sister of Joseph, who is only mentioned briefly in the Old Testament. It has been adopted by the women's spirituality movement, for the community of women that is shown in the book, and their separate religious practices and beliefs.

It was the part of the story that discussed Dinah, her mothers, and the community that formed around them that I found the most interesting part of the book. Her four mothers are all engaging, well-drawn characters that form the foundation of the book. None of the female characters are simple, all are complex, with different faults and virtues. This envisioning of a women's community that interacts only tangentially with that of the men is an interesting one. I don't know enough about the history of this time period to speak to the historicity of that idea.

(Although I do know that the belief that held sway in women's history for a long time about completely separate men's and women's cultures in the 19th century that only interacted slightly and with great difficulty is far too simplistic.)

But I don't demand forensic accuracy. I am more interested in what Diamant does with the story, how she tells this story of how women negotiate power and relationships amongst themselves, and how they interact with the men they may love, but rarely have substantial contact with, other than serving them. And by far and large, it's well done.

Once the scene shifts to Egypt, and Dinah is bereft of this women's community, I found it less interesting. I understand, I think, what the author is trying to do, but since I was always more interested in Dinah's mothers than in Dinah herself, Dinah trying to find a place for herself outside of that community didn't hold my attention the same way.

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