Monday, March 15, 2010

Critical Monkey Contest Entry #3 - The Red Tent

My next entry in the Critical Monkey Challenge was thrown at me.

Okay, I've never actually had a book hurled at my head, pages flapping wildly in the wind. What I mean by "thrown" is more a particular friend telling me I "HAVE" to read a particular book, at which time she puts the book in my hands and runs away before I can sneak it into her purse. Sigh.

My friend, Carolyn, declared to me over a year ago that "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant was her favorite book, so she left it with me to read. I generally enjoy reading new books, and I said I'd read it as soon as I had time, but a year later I found the book on my bookcase covered in dust. Whoops!

I hadn't really been too busy to pick the book up though. Every time I looked at the cover, I only saw one thing: "God Book." "Bible Story" seemed to flash in neon letters when I picked it up. Granted, all I knew about the novel was that it revolved around a bible story, but that was enough to keep me away. Just about the last thing I wanted to read was another preachy God book (lets think about Left Behind here, shudder), so I gradually pushed the book aside, then forgot about it.

But the other day, Carolyn asked if I still had her book; her FAVORITE book. As the guilt sat in, I made up my mind to suffer through it, no matter how bad, just to be able to return the darn thing to her. So I did double duty between Critical Monkey and trying not to be a crappy friend.

Plot: The book tells the story of Dinah from the Bible. You may say "Who the heck was Dinah??" I also said this. Turns out, she was Joseph's (of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat's Fame) sister. Luckily, the plot doesn't really dwell on Joseph's story and sticks more to the women in the book, namely Dinah and her four mothers and the time they spend in the Red Tent, the place where they have babies and spend "their time of the month."

My reaction: I prepared myself for the worst and the worst never came. I couldn't have been more surprised and pleased with the novel! Although this book takes a minor story from the Bible, Diamant makes the characters extremely engaging. She fleshes out the the day to day lives of the women of the Tribe. The rituals they perform for their gods and very vivid descriptions of midwifery and childbirth always keep things interesting. The time the women spend in the Red Tent seems to organize the first half of the book and hold the stories together, and eventually the Red Tent serves as a symbol of the power of the women when they are united and a tribute to their history and their customs/beliefs.

I needn't have worried about the book being a "God book" either. Diamant doesn't preach on how great the God of Abraham is in her story. In fact, I got the impression that she thought that God was kind of a dick, and honestly, I did too.

What It Might Remind You Of: The Mists of Avalon. (Every man in the room just ran away screaming). Whoa There! Okay, when I say it's similar I just mean it has all the Women Power and Ritualistic stuff that Mists had. Luckily it does not have crappy Old Gwenhwyfar who screws entire stories for no reason. Needless to say, I might have some issues with Gwenhwyfar (last time I read the book I threw it across the room and swore I'd never read it again because she sucks so bad). Happily enough though, Dinah is nothing like Gwenhwyfar and the only ones who come close are the brothers and Jacob.

Hilarious moments: My Bible knowledge is WAY rusty, but after listening to the "Dreamcoat" soundtrack about a million times in high school, I kept thinking of the songs when something would happen. They mention Potiphar at one point and I kept chanting "Potiphar had very few cares...he was one of Egypt's millionaires." Too bad there weren't any songs about Dinah, or I would have been singing a lot more.

What I've Learned:
1. Just because a book takes place in Biblical times and uses characters from a Bible story, doesn't mean it's a preachy book.
2.Trust my friend Carolyn's taste in books.


Corey Redekop said...

I will try and get to this one, thanks for the info.

Scrat said...

I too avoid anything "biblical" -- must have developed an allergy from too much exposure in my youth. I loved your review...and maybe, just maybe, may dare to pick this one up. I too have friends who have recommended it but alas, I am not as good a friend as you. I hope I won't end up running to the drug store for antihistamines.