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Finding Strength in your Femininity. Book Review: The Red Tent

*Subtle spoilers ahead*

 

“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.”

If you were raised Christian, then you have certainly heard of Jacob: the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the boy who stole his brother’s blessing, the husband of four wives, and the man with twelve sons. You would have certainly heard of Joseph, his most precious son and the fruit of his love for Rachel, the clairvoyant boy who was sold by his brothers and then, years later, saved them from starvation. You may even remember Dinah, if you payed close attention to Sunday scripture, the only daughter whose only mention is in the violent tale and how her brothers avenged her. She isn’t a big character in the bible nor is spoken about in church school, but then again… whhat woman is?

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is a beautifully written historical fiction novel that depicts the life of Dinah, Jacob and Leah’s only daughter. This story embarks on her life, from the moment her mothers (yes, plural) and her father meets to the moment she closes her eyes forever and joins them in the afterlife.

Part One: My Mothers’ Stories begins with the appearance of Jacob in their tribe after he ran away from his home. It describes her mothers’ diverse positions in the tribe, their personalities and how all of them were given to Jacob, for love or duty. Leah and Rachel were given as wives and the other two, Zilpah and Bilhah, were the former’s dowries. Part Two: My Story involves everything after Leah gives birth to Dinah. It covers her childhood up until she becomes a woman and joins her mothers in the red tent. In her story, Dinah becomes an apprentice to midwife, a profession she eventually adopts as her own. Later on, she falls in love and is loved back with a feverish passion. Her chapter ends at the moment that she appears on the Bible. Part Three: Egypt depicts the aftermath of the violent tale told in the Bible. This chapter tells the tale of a woman in a strange land trying to adapt to new ways of living while learning how to be a caring mother to her first child. Dinah grows old in Egypt, surrounded by the memories of her mothers, where she dies after a fulfilled life.

Diamant travels with Dinah through her life and shows us what it was like to be a strong woman in a nomad, tribal, and patriarchal way of living. Through Dinah’s eyes, we see how her mothers, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah (the last two were slaves) share a father who sold them, a husband who bought them and the raising of twelve children. Most importantly, we discover the spiritual and religious aspect of these women and how laced their deities were to their womanhood. We explore their sacred relationship with womanly experiences such as menstruation, being a wife, and motherhood. We experience how they shared everything and anything because they were each other’s sole and unwavering support.

Anita gives Dinah the proper storyline depiction that she deserved in the pages of this book. In this tale, Dinah loves and is loved, suffers, confronts her demons and dies with honor. Anita explores Dinah’s femininity, sexuality, independence, love, revenge, exploitation, labor, injustice, motherhood, sisterhood, and, most importantly, a rightful position in her own story.

 

“In the darkness surrounding the shining lights of my life,

I began to discern the faces of my mothers,

each one burning with her own fire.

Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. Inna, Re-nefer, and Meryt.

Even poor Ruti and arrogant Rebecca were arrayed to meet me.

Although I had never seen them, I recognized Adah and Sarai as well.

Strong, brave, wonderstruck, kind, gifted, broken, loyal, foolish, talented, weak:

each one welcoming me in her way.”

Doctoral psychology student who enjoys writing.
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