I was really excited to read June’s book club pick, The Red Tent, for several reasons. First, it came highly recommended by several friends and family members in my book club. Secondly, I was assured that while the story was based on the Bible, it was not at all preachy or “religious lit” – which has a time and place, but admittedly does not feature prominently in my for-pleasure reading choices! Finally, I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. As soon as I had purchased the book, I dived right in, ready for a can’t-put-it-down read.
The Red Tent follows the life story of Dinah from the bible, Jacob’s only daughter by first wife, Leah. In the bible, Dinah’s story doesn’t really get fleshed out as much as it does in this fictional work, and it was fun to see names I’ve heard throughout years of Sunday School attendance as a child be given a more human personality. By doing this, I’m sure the author, Anita Diamant, took on some criticism. Her characters are very human, and thus, more relatable than they are in the Bible (though still not quite as relatable as I’ve come to expect in my favorite fiction) – this means they have human drives and human failings, like jealousy, boredom, and the like. I spent a great deal of my childhood in church or musical theater, so I had fun trying to pick out the now very fuzzy memories of bible stories from my childhood and making them fit with the story I was reading in front of me. As soon as Dinah’s brother, Joseph, got a little older, I thought he could perhaps be the subject of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (the VHS version starring Donny Osmond and the cassette soundtrack became background music to much of my childhood) and I was right.
Overall, the plot and character development of this novel wasn’t quite as sophisticated or engaging as I would like. However, I really enjoyed following a lesser (FEMALE!) bible character and learning more about what her life must have been like – as a child in Canaan with mother-aunts, traveling in a caravan, marrying an Egyptian (who meets a rather unpleasant end at the hands of her brothers) and escaping to Egypt where she lives as a midwife and mother to a prominent scribe. So often females in the Bible are written as props vs. actual characters, and I loved that Diamant changed that.
I don’t know that I’d read this book again, but if you enjoy the genres – give it a try! I give this book 2.5 stars. ★★ 1/2