Writer’s Wednesday: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

red tentThis week I finished reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, a wonderful retelling of the Biblical story of Dinah – but in a way the story has never been told before.

From the Prologue:

We have been lost to each other for so long.

My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust.

This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father, Jacob, and the celebrated chronicle of Joseph, my brother. On those rare occasions when I was remembered, it was as a victim. Near the beginning of your holy book, there is a passage that seems to say I was raped and continues with the bloody tale of how my honor was avenged.

It’s a wonder that any mother ever called a daughter Dinah again. But some did. Maybe you guessed that there was more to me than the voiceless cipher in the text. Maybe you heard it in the music of my name: the first vowel high and clear, as when a mother calls to her child at dusk; the second sound soft, for whispering secrets on pillows. Deenah.

No one recalled my skill as a midwife, or the songs I sang, or the bread I baked for my insatiable brothers. Nothing remained except a few mangled details about those weeks in Shechem.

There was far more to tell. Had I been asked to speak of it, I would have begun with the story of the generation that raised me, which is the only place to begin. If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.

So many of my favourite bloggers recommended this book, and I am so happy I finally picked it up. It is a beautiful story – although sad and heartbreaking at times. I love how the author rewrites the story of Dinah, taking back the story and turning it into a powerful story of womanhood in ancient times.

It is also a story that is subtly sceptical of the Biblical god, while revering the women’s fertility gods of old:

“The god of my fathers is a merciful god,” Jacob said. But when Zilpah heard the story from her sons, she said, “What kind of mercy is that, to scare the spit dry in poor Isaac’s mouth? Your father’s god may be great, but he is cruel.”

Leah spoke next. “Zilpah, we are your protection, Your family, your sisters, are the only surety against hunger, against cold, against madness. Sometimes I wonder if the gods are dreams and stories to while away cold nights and dark thoughts.” Leah grabbed her sister by the shoulders. “Better to put your trust in my hands and Jacob’s than in stories made out of wind and fear.”

If you have any interest in stories from the past, or in strong women, I greatly recommend this novel.

Egypt loved the lotus because it never dies. It is the same for people who are loved. Thus can something as insignificant as a name – two syllables, one high, one sweet – summon up the innumerable smiles and tears, sighs and dreams of a human life.

Questions

Have you read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant? If so, what did you think of it?
What do you think of rewriting past stories?

Sidenote: I haven’t posted many reviews lately, not because I haven’t been reading, but because I only write about the best books here – and the ones I think most people would be interested in reading about. If you would like to follow my readings, or connect with me about books you can add me on Goodreads.

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