‘The Red Tent’ was published nearly 15 years ago but only came to my attention a couple of weeks ago through one of those wonderful connections that sometimes occur out of the blue when you are least expecting it.
Recently I met Jaci, an Aix Yoga Centre teacher, who organised a day at her home in Villeneuve, two hours of yoga in the morning, a shared lunch and aromatherapy massage in the afternoon. The first lady who came to see me for a treatment wasn’t doing yoga, she arrived with her well-used hiking poles, out of the hills of Forcalquier, having decided that a 90 minute walk before a 90 minute massage would be a good idea.
And so I met Ruth, a wonderful free-spirited woman with long flowing blonde dreadlocks, originally from Tuscon, Arizona, living in a farmhouse up in the fertile hills of Provence, where she lives with her French husband and two daughters.
As I worked away, I casually mentioned my very dear friend and book buddy CKC, who also comes from Tuscon and had she by any chance read Nancy E. Turner’s excellent trilogy ‘These is My Words’, a story about the author’s grandmother Sarah Prine, pioneer woman from the same area?
Well, from there we traded book titles and discovered we loved the same books and both went away with a “you MUST read” recommendation, mine to her being Sandra Gulland’s trilogy on the life and sorrows of Josephine Bonaparte and hers to me, Anita Diamant’s ‘The Red Tent’, “My daughters and I loved that book” she said.
The Red Tent
Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob, who fathered 12 sons by four wives who were sisters. It is from her perspective that we are told her mother Leah’s stories, her own story in the land of her birth and her exile in Egypt.
“If you want to understand any woman, you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business.”
And in ‘The Red Tent’, that place set aside for women to inhabit during their monthly cycle, secrets of womanhood were shared and passed down the generations, the clan of Jacob.
The book is epic, taking us through the joys and sorrows of births, miscarriages, barrenness, jealousies, betrayals, the vivid and revelatory dreams of sisters seeking insight and forgiveness.
We meet Rachel, whose presence was as powerful as the moon; it was her beauty that lured Jacob into the family fold, her body emitting the scent of fresh water, filling the dusty hills where they live with the promise of life and wealth.
Zilpah, daughter of an Egyptian slave, a few months younger than Leah, milk-sisters and playmates since childhood, who said she remembered everything that happened to her, including her own birth.
Bilhah, last born of the sisters, another daughter of a slave who ran off when she was young – tiny, dark, the silent one.
It is the women we come to know and understand and whose stories we follow, as they navigate life, love, marriage, heartbreak, living in a caravan of tents with a father they no longer respect, now creating their own large family, trying to better themselves until one tragic episode arrives to undo it all.
And for that, if you haven’t done so already, you will just have to find a copy of this ambitious, riveting tale of the lives of these women living in ancient times.
“If you sit on the bank of a river, you see only a small part of its surface. And yet, the water before your eyes is proof of unknowable depths. My heart brims with thanks for the kindness you have shown me by sitting on the banks of this river, by visiting the echoes of my name.”