The Red Tent by Anita Diamant was recommended by a friend who’s lived in the Middle East for many years and by Bei-En. It’s a fictional account of the life of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob. I’m a bit suspicious of Bible stories re-told as fiction but I enjoyed this one, perhaps because of its different perspective – the author is Jewish.
The first interesting thing is the portrayal of the Rachel/Leah relationship. The jealousy and grief of these two women is legendary but I’ve often heard (and read) it as centred around Jacob – that he loved one and spurned the other. However, Diamant tells it as the women’s story, not Jacob’s. He has a unique and loving relationship with both women. It’s they who compete and feel inferior to each other. Diamant doesn’t demonize the women. Instead, she captures a familiar scenario, even to the modern woman. It makes this story seem more real. I can imagine the intrigue, the mis-read facial expressions, the internal dialogue.
The second interesting thing is how religion is experienced by the characters. El is Jacob’s God whom he insists his sons worship but the women worship whom they please. While Jacob speaks of El’s mercy, because he provided a ram so that Abram didn’t sacrifice Isaac, the women believe El is cruel for asking Abram to do that in the first place. In the Bible it might seem like Jacob is having dreams and wrestling God all the time but seeing the years of his life played out as a novel, reminded me that Jacob too lived in the wilderness of muddling through a relationship with an at-times silent God as well.
It’s easy to read 20th century nuclear families into the Bible and so I enjoyed the opportunity to entertain a world where women are each other’s community and what happens in the women’s tent, the Red Tent, is the world of interest and story and life.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.