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Book Review: The Red Tent

This book was given to me as a Christmas present – appropriately, by a dear female friend – and what a gift it’s turned out to be. Told from the point of view of Dinah, a minor character in a well known Biblical tale, the story tracks the life of not only Dinah, but the rich and spiritual woman’s world which, as the only beloved daughter of Jacob and his four wives, she is immersed in from birth.
Central to the tale and the matriarchal environment in which it is set, is the Red Tent: the space reserved solely for women and where the mysteries of menses, childbirth, love, marriage, aging, life and death are unravelled. It is in the Red Tent that Dinah is first introduced to her future as a midwife; it’s where she is inculcated into womanhood at menarche, with a series of ancient rites, and it is in this space that she comes to understand the incredible power and inner strength of the females who influence her and what she will become.

Full of gorgeous prose, wonderful, uplifting and tragic moments, magical stories and characters – male and female – the story resonates with you long after the book is closed. The Red Tent is like catching a glimpse of a forgotten past and female possibilities – of a time that while gone, still shapes the future. The strict gender roles and various cultural rituals are explored with such respect and a sense of history, something as apparently simple as food preparation becomes imbued with deep significance. Love, loss and betrayal, the importance of family and the bonds we choose to make and shape and even break are lovingly teased out and explored with heart wrenching tenderness, but also shocking abruptness and the great betrayal at the centre of this story changes not only Dinah’s life, forcing her on a path that will forge and test her, but that of her large and unwieldy family as well.

A magnificent book; a wonderful, moving story. I can’t wait for my own daughter, sister, husband and friends to lose themselves in the world of The Red Tent.

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