Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Red Tent

"I would be a woman soon, and I would have to learn how to live with a divided heart." (Pg. 86)

...and so we recognize the theme of Anita Diamant's novel - The Red Tent - as well as that of the lives of women everywhere. This story of Dinah is loosely based on the Biblical saga of her father Jacob, who was the son of Esau and grandson of Abraham (as told in the book of Genesis). It is a powerful family drama; an epic, multi-generational legacy along the lines of Gabriel Garcia Marques' 100 Years of Solitude. As with the Marques' novel, at the closing the book, I found it impossible that so much could have been said in only 321 pages.

As should be expected, the text itself is beautiful, poetic. But in my reflection of the novel, I found I couldn't really remember any particular lines, only "scenes" and emotions tied to particular moments.
I was truly lost in the story. Partly due to the first-person protagonist Dinah's "from the grave" narration, where we the audience are told of events that did not actually occur as part of her life. For example: upon seeing her son for the first time in years after he had been sent away to school, they conversed, but " son did not speak of the taunts of his schoolmates, nor recount for me the mocking cries that followed him everywhere during the first year of his studies. " Pg. 249. Dinah's ethereal knowledge adds volumes to the text, without adding awkwardness or too much length.

While there are elements of Biblical truth woven throughout the story, no one should be put off at the idea of this being too "religious" a novel. As much as the Jewish and Christian God is mentioned, so are Egyptian gods and goddesses given the limelight.

I am not a mother, and while I hope to be one someday, I hadn't the faintest idea of what the birthing process was like, until I followed Dinah the midwife as she saw to the easiest and most difficult of pregnancies, and until she described her own on page 226: "There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no worlds strong enough to name that moment. Like every mother since the first mother, I was overcome and bereft, exalted and ravaged. I had crossed over from girlhood. I beheld myself as an infant in my mother's arms, and caught a glimpse of my own death. I wept without knowing whether I rejoiced or mourned. My mothers and their mothers were with me as I held my baby [for the first time]."

As I read back the following paragraph, I realize that even now I am so entranced by Dinah the character that I forget that it is the author who is really responsible for my new knowledge and respect for motherhood.

That to me, is the the testament of a master storyteller. Bravo, Anita Diamant.

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