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Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Red Tent

I finished reading a book today that was much better than I expected. In fact I started it yesterday, expecting that it would be only moderately interesting, and never thinking that I'd be unable to put it down.

In the first place, it's a book that is probably more interesting to women than men. I'm usually not a big fan of such books. My tastes run to mysteries, techno-thrillers and espionage. (For example, I also just finished Sandstorm by James Rollins and it was great!) But I also like historical fiction.

The Red Tent is an historical novel based on the life of Dinah, the one sister of the twelve sons of Jacob who became the twelve tribes of Israel. There is only a small bit of information about her in the Bible, although that is a story of love, politics, treachery and then... complete silence as to what became of her.

Author Anita Diamant takes that kernel and weaves a truly intriguing fictional tale of her entire life. She has really researched how women of that era lived and interacted within their communities.

Life for women focused around monthly cycles, births, marriages, coming of age, food preparation, making clothing and death. Although we like to think that life is about careers, legacies, hobbies, and all the ways that modern technology has insulated us from the basics, at its core those basics are the ones that matter.

Not only was it a fascinating look at the customs of the times, but the fictional portion of the plot was both believable and complex. At the same time, Diamant does a good job with the interpersonal relationships.

The book might not be for everyone. The red tent refers to the tent where women were separated from society during menstruation. Every aspect of sex and sexuality is discussed. But the book is not bawdy or pornographic. It's just an honest portrayal of how important the continuity of life is and how revered that process used to be. In some ways it's like that one-liner, "what if the hokey-pokey IS what it's all about?" But if such topics make you uncomfortable, you will be squirming through this entire book.

Oddly enough, although Diamant builds on the information in Genesis for the story she changes which of Jacob's wives mothered some of the sons. I'm not sure why... there wasn't any need to. This might offend some readers, but the book never pretends to be anything but a work of fiction.

I'm doing a lot of reading and spending unfocused time. Nice, but it won't pay the bills.

See Learning 50-Year-Old New Ideas for comments about a book on graphology
See Couldn't Put it Down


Solomon said...

I love books like that. I especially love it when I can't finish them in one sitting.

betchai said...

it sounds very interesting, i may actually have to look for this one, i love reading stories like this of life many years back.

Ratty said...

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. Historical fiction is good, but I usually read fantasy. I guess they're both similar. This actually sounds like an interesting book to me.

Sharkbytes said...

Solomon and Betchai- While I was checking the spelling of the author's name, I saw that there are very cheap copies at Alibris. Probably on eBay too.

Ratty- It was quite fascinating; I just wanted to "warn" anyone as to its themes. Of course the wives continued to serve the pagan gods, so the customs described are of those traditions. And it's really before Israel had become defined as a people so there were no Jewish customs yet.

Julia said...

I read this about 2 years ago and it remains a favorite and I recommend it to others. I loved it and could not put it down when I started it. Great book!

Eli G said...

Your post makes entertaining reading, even if I'm a man. Still, I left your blog entertained and increased in knowledge about the book. You have the natural gift of writing, expressing the thoughts in a concise and clear manner. I'll visit your blog again to read your new posts. Warm regards. P.S. Read your posts in the Adgitize members forum also.

Eli G

Sharkbytes said...

Julia- Nice to hear that someone else liked it too. I think that learning about ancient customs is interesting.

Eli- Thanks for stopping by! I'll watch for you. Yes, I'm a big fan of Adgitize. They seem to deliver what they promise and don't yank users chains all the time.

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