Reading Genesis 34 in the Old Testament we get a feeling for the setting of this fictional novel built around Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob; brother of Joseph.
Through the voice of Dinah, Anita Diamant carries us back to what the culture for women, in particular, might have been at that time.
It is a spell-binding account of life in the lands inland from the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea and south-west in Egypt. I certainly felt a kinship with the rites and rituals that kept women and their daughters to the tasks of homemaking for the boys and men in their tribes. Repetitive tasks of carding sheep's wool, coaxing it into fine even thread upon a spindle, weaving the cloth for the tribe, and for bartering by the men in the cities.
We are brought into the red tent of rituals that reveal more of the women than a resting place during their moon cycle. In the monthly rite lasting 3 days, beginning and ending for all women of the tribe at the same time, the darkest part of the moon cycle, women had a chance to exchange views and information they gathered while overhearing the men.
It was a time to plan for future holidays and seasonal events. And, we come to a greater understanding of the role of religion in the various lands, one of the cradles of civilization, at this time in early history
Without giving the plot away, we follow Dinah's life even before she is born, through her adventures, trials, fears and love in its many manifestations that compound through a life. At each stage we feel her feelings and champion her cause. It is a novel like that.
I highly recommend The Red Tent for all women, that we may empathize with the plight of women and culture at that time, but particularly for growing into a greater understanding of ourselves in the here and now.
Details - 336 pages published by Picador; 6.2 by 9.2 inches; ISBN: 0312195516
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Review by Susan Helene Kramer