Badass & Biblical: The Red Tent

August 30, 2012 Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 25

Yesterday I wrote about Pope Joan, and I’m feeling theme-y, so let’s continue with the historical fiction/women in religion vein, shall we? The Red Tent by Anita Diamant tells the story of Dinah. Who is Dinah? Yes, that is the name of Alice in Wonderland’s cat, but more importantly, Dinah was in the Bible. I grew up Catholic, so it’s with great shame that I admit that the bulk of my knowledge about Dinah’s family history I learned from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “It’s all there in chapter 39 of Geeeenesis”… (We saw it in Chicago with Donnie Osmond playing Joseph when I was like 11. Then my mom played the soundtrack in the car constantly until the cassette was eaten. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a genius, yo.)

The woman on the cover reminds me of the Statue of Liberty for some reason. I have issues.

Striking a chord yet? Jacob is the patriarch of a ginormous family that includes 2 wives, 2 handmaidens (women who bear children when the wives cannot), 12 sons, and one daughter. Dinah is that daughter. The Red Tent is told from Dinah’s point of view. We get to experience the cameraderie of the “red tent” (literally where all the women in the compound hang out to menstruate) and learn of the women’s relationships in the polygamist family. Since Dinah is the only female child, she’s allowed to spend time in the red tent long before she’s “of age” and is adored by her various mothers.

In the bible, Dinah only gets a couple of lines of recognition. Her lines go something like this.. She marries (or is forcibly taken as a wife- the Biblical text is unclear) Prince Shechem who does not worship the God of Abraham and her family (as you may predict) FLIPS OUT.

Shechem tries to make amends by offering Dinah’s family a bride price fit for royalty (isn’t it wonderful to see women bought and sold like chattel? Of course, her brothers DID sell Joseph into slavery out of jealousy, so…) Shechem also agrees to be circumcised (and volunteers his men for the same treatment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t enough  to placate her brothers, so while all the men of Hamor are distracted by the pain of their newly shorn genitals, Dinah’s brothers show up and slaughter all the men in town. How civilized of them!

In this version of her story, she falls madly in love with Shechem and is absolutely devastated by her brothers’ murderous rampage. We follow her through the aftermath, and the trials that follow. She leads a heck of a life!

This book is wonderful. Historical fiction at its best. Is there a woman out there who hasn’t wished during an especially bad bought of cramps that she could just retire from society for a few days? Who wouldn’t want a metaphorical Red Tent? The one in this book had a lot of wine in it! So my worms, take a chance and read Dinah’s story. You won’t be sorry!

Have you ever felt like a footnote in your family? Did your brother have a famous musical written about him that you weren’t even IN?! Let’s talk about it!

25 Responses to “Badass & Biblical: The Red Tent”

  1. kim

    Correction, your dad bought the CD, made a cassette copy, and then she played it until it wore out…I’m a Kampschoer family historian. (In response to ‘us’ listening to Joseph over and over and over again in the NASA van!)

  2. June

    I’m not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but this one sounds pretty good! I’ll add it to my “Good Books Katie Says I Should Read” list. 🙂

    Luckily, my brother did not have a famous musical made about him in which I was left out. However, my entire family did forget my last birthday – does that count?

  3. Brookie

    Red Tent and Pope Joan?! Flashbacks to WMS all over the place! I can honestly say, those are definitely two of my absolute favorite books ever written, and now I think I’m going to have to read them again, I feel the religion and women vibe comin on…..

    • wordsforworms

      No, Dad. An ACTUAL tent would be the anti-red tent. Because there wasn’t a one of the ladies in our household that was gonna sleep in a tent willingly. At least not without air mattresses and indoor plumbing in the area.

    • wordsforworms

      Thanks for the public shaming on the typo :-P. But, speaking of BEAR CHILDREN, have you seen Brave? Totally mystical bear children in that movie… Which somehow makes my typo acceptable because it’s opened up another line of conversation. It takes a LOT of talent to do that.

  4. MrsCrazyPants

    More books to add to my ever growing “Katie says it rocks so I’m going to read the snot out of it” list!!!! And many in genres I have not ventured 🙂

  5. Jupiter

    I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, ” Have you read The Red Tent yet?”. I might have to move it to the top of the list now.

  6. Stacy

    I really enjoyed this book! I read it quite a while ago while still in high school, my grandma had suggested it because at the time we were studying Judaism together. I found the entire book to be interesting and historically correct.

    Loved your opinion on it, especially that I would love to retire to a tent for a entire week due to my time of the month!

    Stacy Bernstein

  7. Mel

    Wow, this book is still around? At holiday time my brother tries to find an obscure book that would be the complete opposite of what the person he’s giving it to would want.
    For the girl who is an atheist and thinks that every month her hooha just bleeds to death and then regenerates instantly. Since you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead it is never talked about in my house. So of course he thought I should get this book.
    Surprise to me, I really like it!

    • Words for Worms

      Your brother sounds like fun! A friend of mine in high school was given Tara Lipinski’s autobiography despite showing zero interest in the Olympics, figure skating, or Tara’s acting ambitions. Of course, that was completely accidental on the part of a well meaning relative… Anyway, I’m glad your brother’s wicked gift backfired! This is a fabulous book :).

  8. CorrieP

    My aunt bought me this book for Christmas when I was like 16 and it took me 3 years to get up the courage to read (periods were NOT cool in my little bubble!). Since then I’ve re-read it a gazillion times! Thank the good Lord for family members who know more than we do!

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