I spent 6 years in Jewish day school learning the traditional stories of the Old Testament- the glorified tales of the patriarchs, of the matriarchs, and of the offspring of their fertile wombs. The Red Tent is a novelized version of the Biblical chapter of Jacob, his wives, and their many children, narrated by Jacob’s sole female heir, Dinah.

While the Old Testament gives us a bare bone script of what happened in the land of Canaan, The Red Tent concocts a rich world of humanity that brings these renowned but distant characters into full view. We come to know Rachel & Leah not just as Jacob’s wives, and two of the matriarchs of Judaism, but as complex women dealing with the ancient struggles that accompanied everyday life during that time period. And of course we peak into the lives of Jacob and his twelve sons, witnessing the fraternal conflicts, the petty backstabbing, and the oft times brutal vying for power amongst this clan. But the power of The Red Tent lies not in it’s ability to weave a compelling story about a group of people we’ve only known on the surface, but rather in it’s humanization of these Biblical icons. We empathize with their longings and their sadness, we applaud their coups and their happiness, and we come to know them as human beings who aren’t all that different from us.

The Red Tent subtly acts as a rebuff to the phallocentric Biblical telling of what went down within the family of Jacob and gives voice to the powerful women of his tribe. The portrait of Dinah in this novel is one of a strong-willed, intelligent woman whose anachronistic sense of justice is enviable. Her mothers too are showcased as kind, skilled women, in whose hands the future of Jacob and his offspring lies. This takes a more literal form as the skill of midwifing is passed along throughout the story.

Overall, an interesting read, especially if you have any sort of religious background, but not the most skillfully written novel. Diamant clearly has a knack for the imaginative, but her ability to craft a sentence that leaves you in love with words isn’t quite up to par.

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