THE RED TENT/Anita Diamant

Would you believe that I only got my copy of this book for only P5.00? I have been seeing copies for quite some time lying around in Booksale, and before I was able to read the blurb, I was not that too keen in buying it too soon. However, a 5-peso book is so irresistible, and seeing that the story is actually about a Biblical character, I don’t need any second thoughts before buying The Red Tent.

The Red Tent is a story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, who was raped. A very short account of “The Rape of Dinah” is mentioned in Genesis 34 of the Bible, and other than that, no other description of her can be found. In this book, Anita Diamant attempts to give a structure to Dinah’s life aside from her being a rape victim. The book is divided into three chapters beginning with the story of her mothers, to the events that led to her rape, up to the end of her life. The Red Tent is a first-person narrative and the storyteller is Dinah herself. I am very much partial in favor of first-person narratives so reading the book through the voice of Dinah (“Dee-nah”) gives off a somewhat personal touch, as if Dinah herself is in front of me telling me the story – her story.

In college, I took up History as my major and often, my female classmates would quip: Why should it always be history? Why not herstory? Most of the history texts we took up were written by men and were therefore told through a male’s perspective, which is not unlike Biblical accounts. I see nothing wrong with it — I am not your hardcore feminist – because it gives a certain order to society. However, hearing (or studying) an account through another person’s perspective (such as a woman) makes us more objective in our view of certain things and issues. Through The Red Tent, Anita Diamant weaves a tapestry of a society told in a woman’s viewpoint. Somehow, this kind of shift in perspective is very refreshing and empowering.

What, exactly, is a red tent? In ancient days, rooms and houses consists of tents, and in this book, the red tent is a room where the women gather every time they have their monthly periods – menstruation – and where men are strictly prohibited to enter. Through the red tent, women forged friendships and alliances, and where entirely female stuff, such as childbirth and menstruation, are greeted with appropriate traditions.

I would like to point out that The Red Tent is not midrash – Anita Diamant herself clarified this – so it must not be considered as an attempt to fill in the gaps left out by the biblical accounts. This is entirely fiction, though at the beginning, I must admit that I had a bit of difficulty in taking in the different view told in the story than that in the Bible. For one, Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, were identified as polytheistic. For two, Jacob was described as hot tempered and irresponsible. And lastly, the apparent “rape” of Dinah was given a romantic twist. But then again, when I finally convinced myself that The Red Tent is not an accurate Biblical account but is merely about speculations and conjectures of what life might have been for Dinah, and for women for that matter, during ancient times, I began to enjoy the book as it is – purely fiction.

The Red Tent is one interesting depiction of herstory and for that I give my affirmation.

4/5 stars.

30/50 2012 Goodreads Reading Challenge.

3/3 Required Reading: July 2012 (a left-over from last month)

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