Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)

Title: The Red Tent
Author: Anita Diamant
First Published: 1997
This Edition Published: 1998
Published By: Allen & Unwin
Source: Book club borrowed
Genre: Historical Fiction
Goodreads | |

The Red Tent explores the story of Dinah, Jacob's only daughter in the Book of Genesis. This is my first delve into religious historical fiction and I will front this right now by saying I am woefully lacking in my knowledge of bible stories. So I went into this without a lot of prior knowledge about the characters and their history.

So with that said The Red Tent explores Dinah's life as the child of Jacob and his four wives; Leah being her biological mother. I really enjoyed the book. Diamant provides a great depth to the characters and I found many of the scenes incredibly vivid and emotionally engaging.

It can take a bit to get all the names right in your head. Dinah has 12 brothers thanks to Jacob and his four wives Leah, Zilpah, Rachel and Bilhah (all sisters themselves) and of course as soon as the brothers start marrying and having kids its easy to get a little lost with the names, luckily for those of us not so familiar with it all there is a handy cut down version of the family tree at the front to refer to and those that aren't in there don't hang around in the novel.

The focus in this novel is definitely on the women. It is called The Red Tent after all; the tent all the women retire to during their menstrual cycle. Plus Dinah follows the lineage of Rachel and her teacher before her, Inna, and becomes a midwife providing a number of side stories on births. It is incredible to think what it would have been like back then. I feel very privileged to live in a time where deaths caused by giving birth are a rarity and it makes you appreciate the variety of medical options we have available to us. However one of the things I loved about this novel is the portrayal of the inter-connectivity of women in that time and how they all come to rely on one another and learn from one another. As Dinah is growing up she has the support of all the women in The Red Tent and from a young age learns many of the things that women will need to experience in their life. I find this kind of connectivity is lacking in current society, women do not feel as comfortable talking about birth, breast feeding, menstruation etc among themselves, even within families they can be uncomfortable topics which really is to the detriment of individuals because we can learn from others experiences.

Because this book focuses so heavily on the women's lives and men are shown in an unflattering light it could be seen as a book appealing to a more female audience however I feel anyone who enjoys historical fictions could enjoy reading this book. But in saying that this book isn't for the faint hearted - this is bible times we are talking about here and some nasty shiz goes down throughout Dinah's life.

I was surprised at the amount of references to gods and goddesses that predate the Judeo-Christian God and the worshipping of idols but I found it all really fascinating and interesting to read. I can however see how this aspect of the book could be more offensive for some.

This novel is of course never going to be for everyone. Those familiar with the story of Jacob and his family may not appreciate some of the liberties taken by the writer. In writing up this review I couldn't help but read some of the other reviews out there and many of the negative ones call into question the accuracy (to very minute details) of the story. Of course this is always subjective as other reviews hailed how closely Diamant managed to weave the Bible stories. I cannot personally respond to the accuracy of the novel as my knowledge of the Book of Genesis is not up to scratch so I can only say that each person will have to judge for themselves.

Now my question here is whether historical accuracies is a valid condition to base a review on. Forgetting the fact that this obviously sits within a religious context, would inaccuracies in any historical fiction cause you to  review the piece differently or do you review based on the writing and story alone regardless of how many variances it has taken? Personally I'm not too fussed if a story isn't quite accurate, however I give great kudos to those authors that have the guts to step up in their novels and talk about where they have deviated for their own purposes. I have seen a number of examples of this over the years where a note on the historical text will go into detail on any sidesteps that need to be taken for the story to progress as it did. I think this is the best way for an author to present their case for why they have taken some creative licensing with their work.

More of the bad reviews speak on the ill representation of the men in the novel. Again all I can say to that is we are reading from the narrative of Dinah, a woman who at first loves (but may not be close to) most of her brothers but who ends up despising them by the end of the novel due to events in her life (don't want to give no spoilers now!) So of course the representation is going to be one sided, Dinah is the narrator. I mean really what do you expect? And to those who say it portrays all men in a bad light then I throw back to them the characters of Benia and Shalem.

I hadn't planned on commenting on other peoples reviews but I just couldn't help myself. This review is one of the hardest ones I have had to write so far as people have some passionate views on this book and I wanted to do it justice. This is the kind of book that could create some pretty heated debates in certain circles and that's a good thing as long as people are open to everyone's opinions on the discussion. Why not consider this book for your next book club in order to fire up the talks?

Overall I found the novel to weave an incredible story with vivid characters and although this book is simply not going to be for everyone, I loved it.

Read It

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery