Book Club Review: The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

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We finally had a book club meeting in which the votes split the group into half, with one group liking it so much that they want to re-read it and one group simply did not like it albeit acknowledging some interesting points the book contained.

Our host jokingly said that the lesson she learned was “not to pick a book for book club until you have read it yourself”. She said that because her mother had raved about the book, and she recommended it for all of us and read it just before the meeting. It did not turn out to be her cup of tea. She led us through the discussion about the life led by the women in the book, the relationship between Dinah and her four mothers (Leah, Rachel, Zilpach, and Bilhah), the relationship between the women and Jacob, and how the novel differed from the Bible version. This book actually had motivated most of us to re-read Genesis Ch. 34 for a comparison.

Since Dinah’s story was written up in the Bible, and was considered some form of history, some of us felt that we were unsure whether we were reading fiction, which the book claimed to be, or non-fiction at times. We trusted that the author was an authority in Jewish culture, having written several on this topic, yet those of us who tried to research more on the red tent, where the women would retreat to monthly and as well for childbirth, could not find references to it anywhere else.

While half of us felt that the book is a celebration of womanhood and sisterhood, the other half felt that life must be rather miserable to be a Jewish woman in those days, perhaps unless one could be a midwife like Rachel, and that was what Dinah had become to make her life respectable and fulfilled. However, we also wondered if the Jewish women were aware of other options and they seemed to be making the best of what they had. Another possibility, of course, is that the book was just the fictional alternative to the Bible if it had been written by women.  We opined about the girl or woman being regarded as a commodity, her value rated in terms of the dowry she was worth. That quite naturally introduced some cross-cultural comparison, since we had members familiar with the South Asian and the Chinese culture. While women in these cultures, as with the Jews, had little status in society, they were even being discriminated against during their menstrual cycles. Unlike Jewish women who could celebrate monthly in the Red Tent, Chinese women and Indian women were segregated traditionally because the period was regarded as  “dirty” and the men did not want ill fortune to be inflicted on them by associating with them.

The book seemed to dwell on the relationship between Dinah and her mothers, it did not say much about her relationship with her son, and we tried to explain it by the sad fact that her son was being taken away from her by her mother-in-law.

One of our members had gone into the trouble of verifying the authenticity of Dinah’s story. She found that the rape of Dinah was added much later and it was done to create tension among the tribes. Even if Dinah had willingly given herself as the book had described, the fact that a woman lost her virginity in those times would have angered her father and her brothers anyway.

The group that liked book felt that it was a celebration of feminism. The group that did not like the book cited reasons such as the slow pace in plot development, uninteresting style of writing and dull subject matter. We had a good discussion and this was a meeting in which everybody had a chance to speak up her mind.

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3 thoughts on “Book Club Review: The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

  1. Mary

    Don’t you find that the best Book Club discussions occur when opinions about the book are divided? If everyone enjoys it there seems less to talk about.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (3/5) | Taking on a World of Words

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