I don’t recall when I first read this book – likely not long after it came out – but I recall adoring it. Since then, it routinely appears in my Desert Island Books lists. However, I have not read it again since that first time, so I wanted to see if it was as good and as powerful all these years later, and still worthy of that spot on the list. Spoiler alert – it is and it does.
The novel tells the story of Dinah, only daughter of Jacob, granddaughter of Isaac and Rebecca, and sister of Joseph (the one with the amazing coat). In the bible, Dinah gets barely a mention but here her story is made whole and technicolor. Starting from before her birth, the story covers Dinah’s family, her life in Canaan, and her life and death in Egypt. Central to her early life is the titular Red Tent, a separate structure in the camps and tribes where women would spend a time of isolation and calm when menstruating. After her flight to Egypt, the red tent disappears from the story except in Dinah’s memories, but is perhaps analogous to her place as an outsider, withdrawn from most of society while still playing an important role in the lives of women, now as a midwife.
The novel is as good as I remember. The writing is good, well paced and evocative. The benefit of so long between readings was that I remembered little of the actual story, so was able to be captivated and surprised by events. Dinah is brought to a full, textured, nuanced life, and the full circle of her story here is both fantastic and realistic. As one would expect, the female characters here are more fully formed, again a realistic perspective in Dinah’s world and time, and so the men are more caricatures and stereotypes than full characters, and few are cast positively, including the mythical but ultimately mortal Joseph. Dinah herself is also human, with a balance of features and flaws that makes her relatable throughout. Interestingly, as the story is told in the first person by Dinah, you get good images and perspectives of the people and world around her, but little in the way of an image of her; hints at her height and hair type, but little else.
I’m glad I chose to reread this, and that it’s place on my Desert Island list is intact. Time to dig out a few more hope for the same.
Fate: keeping this one as it’s my original copy from my first reading.
1 – a book with a murder in it
8 – a book by a female author
9 – a book that has been made into a film (for TV)
13 – a book set in a place I’ve never been (Isreal, Egypt)
16 – a book with a colour in the title