Mostly-Spoiler-Free Review: The Red Tent

Image result for the red tent book cover
“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.”

Do I need to warn about a spoiler alert? Can you really spoil a Bible story?

Author: Anita Diamant

The Red Tent refers to an ancient Jewish practice where the women of a tribe would be isolated from men during their time of the month. Freed from physical labor, they would relax and enjoy the company of only other women. They may have been bronze age nomadic shepherds living in tents, but I hold this as proof that they were an advanced society!

The novel tells a fictionalized version of Genesis 28-49. It is narrated (and I used that term loosely) by Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob mentioned in the Bible.

Dinah starts the story with her mother, Leah, meeting her father, Jacob, for the first time. . .

Events she obviously couldn’t have seen, but is narrating nonetheless. So right out of the gate Dinah is established as an unreliable narrator, and it gets worse from here.

In the novel, Leah and her sister Racheal scheame together to both marry Jacob. Really? These women were naming their kids stuff like “maybe now my husband will love me” and you expect me to believe that they got along and were happy little sister wives? Nope, not buying it. You can find more biblically acurate information from a kids cartoon.

Dinah’s story is found in Genesis 34. She’s mentioned breifly. The story is quickly taken over by her brothers, and then Dinah is never mentioned again.

We are told in Genesis 34 that Dinah was “visiting the women of the land” which the novel interprets as Dinah acting as a midwife, which I think was a good move. I’m no Biblical scholar, but considering what “he knew her” is code for, it makes sence to me that “visiting the women” was referring to something along the line of midwifery. So that’s fine, it’s what happens next that bothers me.

The Bible tells us that Dinah get’s kidnapped and raped by a prince, He then goes to her family, admits that he kidnapped her and raped her, and that she’s a good lay so he wants to marry her now. So romantic.

Jocob’s sons tell the prince that to marry their sister, he and all the men of the city have to be circumsised, and the moron agrees to this. One snip later, the men are in no condition to fight when the boys burst in, slaughter the men of the village and rescue their sister. When Jacob asks why they did this the boys say “No one treats our sister like a whore.” End of chapter.

From a modern viewpoint Dinah’s brothers overeacted. You don’t kill and inslave a whole town just because your sister was raped. but think about the situation from their perspective. This guy was a prince, note that he didn’t even let her go. If they had refused to let her marry him, there is no indecation that this prince would have given her back to her family. He likely would have just kept her as a conquibine. So why did he ask her family for permission to marry her at all?

He didn’t want to marry her because he loved her, chapter 34 makes it clear that he “looked at Jacob’s flock.” He kidnapped a girl, rapped her and then had the gaul to ask her family for a dowery!

Also keep in mind, ancient cities were very small. The people in this city would likely have heard Dinah’s cries for help. They knew what their prince was doing and turned their backs on her cries for help. I’m not defending murder, but I get the anger.

The Red Tent romantisises this into a story about two young lovers ripped appart by a tradgic misunderstanding. Do I need to point out how insulting that is?

I’m not going to get into a debate about rape appology because that’s not what Diamant was going for, but I would have respected this book a lot more if the story had delved into Dinah dealing with the aftermath of rape. but then again, I don’t think Diamant is talented enough to do such a thing justice.

After looseing the man she “loved”, Dinah leaves her family and goes to Egypt. Sure, we’ll pretend that makes sence!

In Egypt, she works as a midwife. Years later, she goes to deliver the baby of a powerful vizer.

Guess who the vizer is:

A. The man she loved, and though was dead, but really had amnesiea!

B. Batman

C. Arthur Dent

D. Her bother Joseph

Telling you the answer would be a spoiler, so you’ll just have to guess.

She eventually marries a poor woodcarver…in Egypt… where there are no trees.

Anyway, she lives a quiet life. As the novel comes to a close, she dies peacfully, and she still won’t shut up!

I hated this book! It brake the two core rules of first person naratives. These rules are not very hard or mysterious. This is creative writing 101!

Rule 1. The character cannot narrate events they did not witness.

This should be obvious. Either hold off the information and have someone who did witness the events tell the character about it, or hand wave it away saying “I would later learn…” and sumerize the key events the character missed. You can’t have your first person narrator go on in detail about stuff they didn’t see. How can Dinah know that Rachel “wrinked her brow” when so first met Jacob? She wasn’t even born yet! She wasn’t there to see Rachel wrinkle her brow!

Rule 2. Your narrator can die, but can’t be dead.

This should also be obvious. your charactor should never be able to say “I am dieing… Now I’m am dead,” How are you talking?! Don’t misunderstand me your main character can die at the end, they can be on their deathbed. You can end the story with their last words or final thought, but they can’t actually be dead and still narraite what’s going on. You don’t have lungs anymore, how are you talking?!

I hated this book, spare yourself!

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