Genre: Historical Fiction

Notes: You don’t need to be a Biblical scholar to follow this rendition of the story of Dinah.  In fact, it’s probably best if you’re not.  This is only very loosely based on the Bible’s version of events

Review: Snore.

I love historical fiction.  I think an author who can take a story from history and make it never again deserves an award.  It’s an awesome skill.  Unfortunately, I didn’t fall in love with “The Red Tent.”

“The Red Tent” tells the story of Dinah.  In the Bible, (I read the Bible once or twice through when I was  12 – it seemed important) Dinah is barely a footnote.  All we know is that Dinah goes to the city of Schechem and an Egyptian man falls for her beauty.  The man, Shalem, goes to Jacob to ask for Dinah’s hand in marriage.  Jacob agrees, but only if the men of Schechem submit themselves for circumcision.  While them men are still healing, Jacob’s sons enter the city and slaughter all of the men for the “dishonor” Shalem brought to Dinah by taking her virginity.  The Bible blatantly leads us to believe an Egyptian prince raped Dinah and her brothers exacted their revenge on the city.

However, in the book, we get a wildly different version of events.  In “The Red Tent,” Dinah goes to the city to assist with a birth.  She learns the skills of a midwife from her aunt Rachel who takes her under her wing as an apprentice.  While in the city, Dinah meets a young man with whom she feels an instant connection.  Shalem and Dinah begin a super hot affair with a couple of sex scenes fit for a romance novel.  Shalem took Dinah for his wife in every way except the formal title.  The rest of the story follows pretty much the Bible version with the whole slaughter, death, and blood typically found in most of the Old Testament.

One thing I will say about this book, though, is that it gives a fascinating look at women in a time where women aren’t thought of as more than baby machines and sex objects.  The story Diamant weaves though the generations of women living under the tents of Jacob pulled me in and made me appreciate their strength and hardiness.  There are stories of women dying in childbirth after three days of labor, graphic details of the tools midwives use to deliver babies, and the insatiable desire women have to bear children.  You can bet when I have kids, I will beg for an epidural.  Stat.

Diamant creates an amazing tale of sisterhood at a time when your bonds with women could spell life or death.

My problem with the book lies in its portrayal of men.  I realize this book is about the women and their interactions give this novel its rich texture.  However, I thought its portrayals of men were needlessly negative.  Their characters had no dimension and never really became more than one-dimensional sketches for me.  Shalem and Benia (Dinah’s husbands) were probably the most well-developed men in the novel, but they still left something to be desired.

I had high hopes for this book and expected to find myself engrossed from chapter one.  Unfortunately, I had to force myself to sit down and finish.  I probably wouldn’t have finished if I hadn’t been crafting a review in my head while reading.

Bottom Line: Even though I obviously wasn’t thrilled with this book, it is worth reading.  I would recommend it for a women’s book club without hesitation because it would lend itself to interesting conversation.