Book Review of “The Red Tent” (by Anita Diamant)

Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” is a fictional autobiography of the life of Dinah (the Posterdaughter of Jacob in the Bible). The book was turned into a TV mini-series in 2014.

In her book, Diamant brings the day-to-day lives of Dinah and the women around her to life, depicting events that are integral to women’s lives such as menstruation and childbirth. The book’s title refers to a menstrual tent in which the women of Jacob’s tribe must (according to Diamant’s fictional tale) take refuge together while menstruating or giving birth, and in which they find mutual support and encouragement from each other.

To create this novel, Diamant drew from the historical records that she could find – however she found historical records to be sparse in their accounts of women’s lives. In the Author Interview at the back of the book Diamant explains that, “Women’s accomplishments, until the very past, have been “written” on the bread they baked, the clothing they fashioned, the children they bore and reared. These are monuments that crumble into dust.”

Menstruation in “The Red Tent”:

In “The Red Tent” Diamant has imagined a world in which the women menstruate together every month at the time of the new moon. This seems like a lovely world to me – I would like it if all women menstruated at the same time. If we did, we would have solidarity in our experiences and wouldn’t feel so secretive and isolated – menstruation would be something women talked about more because we would all be experiencing it together.

I like the concept of the “red tent” – a place where women can go to congregate in the absence of men, where things like menstruation and childbirth can be discussed with ease and normality. Women talk about different things when there are no men around, and the frequent separation of women from men in Diamant’s story enabled these woman’s stories and the ‘woman’ part of their lives to be discussed more frequently and more freely than would otherwise be the case.

The “red tent” differs from many of the menstrual huts I’ve heard about in poor isolated villages around the world. When a village is poor and has few resources it is often the women and girls who are deprived first. Men don’t have to use menstrual huts (or even go near them), therefore often the menstrual hut is a tiny dingy cold, exposed, miserable and unsanitary place – not a place that women and girls enjoy going to.

 Extract from “The Red Tent”:

“I was squatting to relieve myself when I noticed the smear on my thigh. It took me several moments before I understood what I saw. It was brown rather than red. Wasn’t it supposed to be red? Shouldn’t I feel some ache in my belly? Perhaps I was mistaken and bled from my leg, yet I could find no scrape or scratch. It seemed I had been waiting forever for womanhood, and yet I did not jump up to tell my mothers. I stayed where I was, on my haunches, hidden by branches, thinking: My childhood is over. I will wear an apron and cover my head. I will not have to carry and fetch during the new moon anymore, but will sit with the rest of the women until I am pregnant. I will idle with my mother and my sisters in the ruddy shade of the red tent for three days and three nights, until first sigh of the crescent goddess. My blood will flow into the fresh straw, filling the air with the salt smell of women… I raised myself up, my fingers stained with the first signs of my maturity, and realized that there was indeed a dull ache in my bowels. With new pride, I carried myself to the tent.” (page 170).

REFERENCES:

http://explainthebible.blogspot.co.nz/2011/01/how-many-children-did-jacob-have.html

http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/vayeshev/klei.html

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