"The Red Tent"

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent is a fictional tale based on the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau. The Bible gives us the basic framework, and Diamant has written a spellbinding story to flesh it out. An unflinching look at how women lived and were treated at that time in history, it sometimes gets gritty in it's portrayal of day to day life. If you don't want to read about the harsh realities, this book might not be for you.

Diamant's story centers on the women in Jacob's life and is narrated in the voice of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah. The first part of the book tells of family history in the years before Dinah was born. Part 2 follows her life as a child and a young woman and the last section follows her through to the end of her life.

I found some of the characters to be a bit of a stretch from their Biblical models, which will matter to some readers more than others. Jacob's mother, Rebbecca, is portrayed as an oracle to whom people come for healing, for help bearing children and any other wants/needs they may have. She's an unlikeable woman with an overblown opinion of herself, who worships, and sacrifices to, the many gods and goddesses of the local culture. Jacob is more true to the Bible with his belief in the one God, El, but his wives and children have their own beliefs and live with all the superstitions and fears of having many different gods to appease.

Jacob's son Joseph, resented and sold into slavery by his brothers, is a hero in the Bible, but not in this book. Biblically, when the wife of Joseph's Egyptian master, Potifar, attempts to seduce him, he refuses to be led astray and is thrown into prison after the insulted woman complains that Joseph raped her. In The Red Tent Joseph is a man of lesser character who takes Potifar's wife up on her offer. Later in the story, he is again portrayed as a weak man without compassion or character.

Though I didn't like certain aspects of the book, I have to give credit where it is due. The characters and the settings are so pulsing with life that when you pick up the book to read you enter another world and completely leave yours behind. When you take a break from reading and have to start living in your world again, it's almost disorienting. Until you can pick it up again, the world of The Red Tent fills your head like a vacation you're just returned from and whose sights and sounds are still as present to you as your own world.

The book was more sexually explicit than I expected. I don't mind innuendo or the odd bit of off color language, I just don't need to know the details. Yes, I know, sex is a perfectly natural part of life, but so are bowel movements and I don't want to read the details of those either. Some things should stay private.

Call me old fashioned, but I like clean books. I don't find myself entertained by sexual details, foul language, torture scenes or blood and gore. On the other hand, I don't like fluff either and it seems as though a lot of clean books are a little light. However, I'm hanging on to my belief that there are still authors intelligent enough to to write a really good book without going to either extreme. There are authors with good vocabularies who can write without having to fall back on curse words in every dialogue and who can create a plot interesting enough that they don't need to fill up space with long steamy sex scenes or horrifyingly gruesome slasher scenes either.

All I ask is a good story, well written, which I guess is why I read a lot of older books (my daughter has complained that I only read books whose author's have been dead for two hundred years). I will keep looking for modern authors who can offer the same quality and I've been lucky enough to find a few. Recommendations on other book blogs have been a terrific source of titles for me and I am always looking for suggestions, so if you find a good one please let me know.

End of rant. Back to the book.

All in all, The Red Tent is a very well written fictional story based on Bible characters. I wish the author had stayed closer to the real story with Joseph, but this is fiction and it's the author's prerogative to write what she wants. I recommend this book to adults, but I think it's too explicit for younger readers.

I will definitely be looking forward to more from Anita Diamant because she's got a wonderful talent for storytelling and I love it when an author can transport me. Her new novel, Day After Night, sounds like something I might like.

My next book may or may not be Paul Hofmann's "The Seasons Of Rome". I'm 64 pages in and don't love it yet, not at all normal for someone who devours travel books and always wants more. I'm still hoping I'll be able to get into it, but am beginning to lose interest. We'll see.


Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Lovely review! Very interesting book. Bible-based stories can be really good.

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Ive heard a lot of good things about this book though you are the first I've read to comment on the explicit sex. I must confess this does put me off a bit.

Bailey said...

I was hopping by, and I had to comment here because I recently read The Red Tent. I had many of the same thoughts that you did! The explicit scenes were a turn off for me as well, but you have a point about how this book could pull you into its world. I kept telling myself that I should set it aside, but something about her style was captivating! Happy Friday; happy hopping!

Lisa said...

I was really disappointed by this one. Not that I didn't walk away from it thinking it was a good book, but it had built up to me as a great book and I just didn't get that. Found you on the Blog Hop!

Kimberly said...

The Red Tent is one of my favorites. I agree that the characters and setting are so descriptive and engaging that it's impossible not to be completely drawn into the story.

linda said...

I find it interesting that a lot of readers have a strong distaste against sex and cursing in books. I myself am not enticed by sex or cursing and don't seek it out and sometimes I find myself cringing and turning the page /skipping sex scenes as it makes me feel a little.... dirty. But I'm not entirely against it. The sex scenes in Red Tent were tolerable for me save for a few awkward moments under the tent itself that did not involve intercourse. gives me shivers. I guess with me, there's a little bit of a balance that play.

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

I thought this one was very well-written and an interesting story, but it had me squirming like a 13-year-old in junior high health class. Too much bleeding and breeding for me!

bafisher said...

The Red Tent is NOT historical fiction. The author distorts history and the story as told in the Bible in a way that makes highly regarded characters despicable. Beastiality, fornication, paganism, cruelty, etc all seem to be the practices of individuals who were foundational to the roots of Judaism and highly regarded in Christianity. Even the God of Abraham has a Sumerian goddess as his consort, blasphemous. The author should have placed her story on Mars instead of flat out distorting and avoiding actual historical and cultural practices to create her fictitious world.

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