The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant
St. Martin’s Press, $23.95
As Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent opens, Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, tempts the reader to hear her story. “We have been lost to each other for so long,” she entices us. “I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father, Jacob, and the celebrated chronicle of Joseph, my brother. On those rare occasions when I was remembered, it was as a victim.”
And so Diamant retells the story of Dinah, who is known to us primarily because she was raped. In Diamant’s lyrical construction, Dinah illuminates not only her own story, but the lives of the women and the society around her. As the only daughter, Dinah becomes the repository of her family’s stories and secrets. She becomes their memory.
Constructing the story in the tradition of midrashim, Diamant uses the sparse details of the text and expands them, filling the holes with her narrative. It is a beautiful tale that stretches back to Jacob’s marriage to Rachel and Leah, and reaches long past the last mentions of Dinah in the Torah. Through Dinah’s words, we begin to imagine the smells and sounds of a camp filled with 12 boys of differing temperaments, a kind but distant patriarch, sisters who compete in their marriage to the same man yet keep the bonds of sisterhood strong. It is a home filled with cooking, laughing, weeping and, most importantly, storytelling.
Though Diamant’s story is lodged in the traditional text, her work is a modern interpretation of a woman whose elliptical story has challenged readers and commentators throughout the centuries.