The Red Tent, Anita DiamantWhy had no one told me that my body would become a battlefield, a sacrifice, a test? Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers? But of course, there is no way to tell this or to hear it. Until you are the woman on the bricks, you have no idea how death stands in the corner, ready to play his part. Until you are the woman on the bricks, you do not know the power that rises from other women – even strangers speaking an unknown tongue, invoking the names of unfamiliar goddesses…

I wept and I yelled. I gave up all hope and I prayed. I vomited and my knees buckled. But even though their brows furrowed in response to my pains, none of them appeared worried or anxious. So I fought on, reassured. Then I began to push because there was nothing else I could do.

This is the (fictional) story of the biblical Dinah, only daughter to Jacob. In it she recounts the stories of her four mothers and of her self, stories thick with the names of goddesses, and saturated in the blood of the red tent, the place where the women enter their own world with its own rites.

It is quite simply the most inspiring novel I have read in a very long time.

It is also a reminder of what we women have lost: our heritage. Women’s stories have been lost because they have been suppressed: because the interference by men and patriarchy in women’s lives – in our hearts and minds, as well as our bodies – over history has prevented us from continuing to pass down our stories from generation to generation; and because women were not taught to write; and because those who could write at best failed to understand that women could have a story worth recording. It is deeply sad that this is all we have of women like Dinah- a few scraps that men thought relevant to their own stories, and this, a carefully constructed and deeply authentic book, but ultimately a fiction.

Fiction – but read it anyway, OK?

PS This is a rhetorical question. But why is a book about women written from their perspective described by everyone and even on its own blurb as one that is exclusively for women? When a book about men written from the man’s perspective is ordinarily considered to have universal appeal? Think Moby Dick, think Papillon, think Master and Commander – just for examples – those books are not described as “men’s novels” and nor are their target audiences deliberately confined to men only. Is there not a man somewhere who might find The Red Tent a revelation, an affirmation, a wonder?

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