The Red Tent

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The Red Tent By Anita Diamant, book reviewI did not want to read The Red Tent. In the blurb on the back I was informed that the book was about a girl called Dinah who is a character from a bible story. As an atheist, I had no desire to read about some bible character. Yet I did read The Red Tent – it was for my reading group, and the knowledge that the whole point of the group is to read things we might not otherwise try, in order to broaden our reading experience, overcame my dislike.

Anita Diamant has taken the character of Dinah, daughter of Jacob whose many sons include Joseph (here’s a bible character I know of, thanks to the all singing all dancing version of his story), and created a story for her. According to the blurb on the book, Dinah’s fate is merely “hinted at” in the bible, so what Diamant has done is extrapolated the story based on what is said in the bible and knowledge of the time.

Despite my feelings about the text that this is based on, I do like the concept of basing one work of fiction upon a side character from another. It could be argued that there is a lack of originality in doing this, and that may be true, but in order to do this successfully, other talents are needed. The author must stay true to the original story and setting, and make their work fit well with that original.

The character of Dinah isn’t entirely likeable, she has a tendency to be a bit annoying and pathetic, particularly during her youth, but the world that she lives in is fascinating. Diamant does a remarkable job of bringing this culture and landscape to life, so much so that the sounds and smells of the time seem to be very close to coming out of the page. The way of life of Dinah’s family is so different to how we live today, yet thanks to Diamant’s writing, I questioned it very little. The only points I was mildly surprised at were that I had no idea biblical characters engaged in polygamy and bestiality. ..

The Red Tent is really a book of two parts. Dinah’s youth is spent in a fairly secluded camp with her immediate (and large) family. While the action may be slow during this time, Diamant floods the page with culture and life, so that she creates a rich picture of life in the camp.

However, the family later moves near to a town, where Jacob was born, and things begin to change. There is one event which changes everything forever, and this is the catalyst for the second part of the book. Having never read the bible, this event was a huge shock to me – maybe you all know it, but I won’t tell just in case. Dinah’s reaction to this was when things began to go downhill in the novel. She curses all the men in her family, which for me just didn’t fit with her previous character – she was not a terribly spiritual girl. Following this, the second part of The Red Tent is largely rather pedestrian and bland. Not a great deal happens, and Diamant seems to have run out of steam for bringing the environment to life.

I found it very difficult to relax and fully enjoy The Red Tent, because I knew it was based on a bible story. If I hadn’t read that on the back of the book, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed it – I suspect I would have realised at some point that Dinah’s brother Joseph was him of the technicolour dreamcoat (I was humming the songs from the show all through the book), but I think I would have been much more relaxed while reading The Red Tent. By the time I did relax a little, I was into the dull second part of the book. While I did, on the whole, enjoy The Red Tent, I could have enjoyed it more and I was disappointed with the second part of the story.

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Red Tent, The
by Anita Diamant

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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