Monday, August 24, 2009
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
This work of fiction revolves around the biblical character of Dinah, sister to the 12 brothers that make up the 12 tribes of Israel. The Bible only mentions her in the context of her abduction/rape by a Canaanite prince, and the later marriage negotiation that ended with the sons of Israel killing all the males who had submitted to circumcision to seal the deal. We never hear any more about Dinah after that. The author creates a whole life for Dinah in this book.
I have always felt somewhat cheated that the prophets didn't record more of the lives of these women in the Bible. Someone has to raise these prophets when they were children right? I have to content myself with the thought that I may have a chance to chat with these women once I get to the afterlife and get the real story from those who were THERE. I was hoping The Red Tent would show the strength of these women, and Dinah in particular, in overcoming the struggles of daily life, birth, and death, following a father/husband/prophet as he struggles to follow the word of God as it is given to him.
I was sorely disappointed. The author paints the wives and daughter of Jacob/Israel as paganists, participating in what would now be called sexual abuse as a rite of passage for women. Jacob's god, apparently nothing more than a man's invention to justify cruelty, is the source of much of the women's sorrow.
The rape story is changed to that of a Romeo/Juliet type encounter. Dinah falls in love with Shalem and they give in to their passage with the help of Shalem's mother, anxious to get her son married off. The marriage negotiations happen afterwards and Jacob and his sons are horrified that Dinah has been seduced. Instead of thinking of Dinah's future, Jacob thinks only of his pride and his sons' opinions. His sons Simon and Levi secretly plot to kill all the men who agree to be circumcised as part of Jacob's terms for the marriage to proceed. While the men are trying to recover from the "surgery", the brothers invade the city and slaughter all the men while they are weakened. Dinah wakes to find herself drenched in her husband's blood, and her brothers take her back to her father. She curses all of them with all the disgust in her soul and she leaves them.
I was tempted to put the book down at that point. The story did not square with my beliefs in God and there was so much that was brutal. I did appreciate the strands of support in childbirth and menstruation among the women what wove them together. Women do need each other in some of these most basic, life affirming ways, and I think modern life has robbed women of some of that comfort. The perversion that was present in this retelling turned me off to much of what was good.
The book ends decently, Dinah a midwife with a loving husband and a grown son, who although distant, treats her with respect. She eventually runs into her brothers, first Joseph, who has become a leader second only to Pharoah, during the time of famine that drew the rest of the family to Egypt for relief. When Joseph goes to see his father Jacob one last time, he insists Dinah go with him. None of the other brothers recognize her, or if they do they don't acknowledge her. She doesn't go in to see her father. There can be no forgiveness for the past. Only as she is leaving, does Judah approach her with a gift, a last bequest from her long dead mother.
Overall this book left a bad taste in my mouth. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone.