Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Red Tent

I just finished reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

This book was left on my desk with a note from Jenny, shortly after I finished reading The Da Vinci Code at her urging. I will happily take any scraps of praise I tossed at Da Vinci and heap them on top of the loads of praise I'm bestowing upon this novel.

Following on the tails of another between-the-lines Biblical narrative that I read earlier this summer (Findley's Not Wanted On the Voyage), Diamant uses the story of Dinah--and the stories of Rachel, Leah, Jacob, Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph--as the basis for a creative imagining of everything that happened in Dinah's life, aside from the brief mention of her rape and her brothers' revenge.

Like the women in her work, Diamant is a skilled storyweaver. She portrays womanhood eloquently, beautifully, and powerfully. She makes no claims to truth telling: her story isn't meant to be Biblical, but it is meant to be humane--and she succeeds.

A couple of things I want to make note of, from the cover and included notes, before returning this book to Jenny's shelf:

-According to the cover, this was a NYT Bestseller.

Excerpt from the included readers' guide:

Anita Diamant says it was the relationship between Leah and Rachel that stimulated her thinking about The Red Tent. "The Biblciacl story that pits the two sisters gainst one another never sat right withme. The traditional view of Leah as the ugly and/or spiteful sister, and of Jacob as indifferent to her, seemed odd in light of the fact that the Bible gives them nine children together. As I re-read Genesis over the years, I settled on the story of Dinah, their duaghter. The drama and her total silence (Dinah does not utter a single word in the Bible) ried out for explanation, and I decided to imagine one."

Aiding her work was "midrash," the ancient and still vital literary form, which means "search" or "investigation."

"Historically, the rabbis used this highly imaginative form of storytelling to make sense of the elliptical nature of teh Bible--to explain, for example, why Cain killed Abel. The compressed stories and images in the Bible are rather liek photographs. They don't tell us everything we want or need to know. Midrash is the story about what happened before and after the photographic flash."

She points out that "The Red Tent" is not a translation, but a work of fiction. Its perspective and focus--by and about the female characters--distinguishes it from the biblical account in which women are usually peripheral and often totally silent. By giving Dinah a voice and by providing texture and content to the sketchy biblical descriptions, my book is a radical departure from the historical text."

Links of Note:
(1)Online preview has cover shots, prologue, family tree.
(2) Book info on the author's website.
(3) Reading Group guide

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