Dinah, her Mothers and a woman named Ruth

Aix Yoga Center Teachers

‘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.

The hilltop village of Villeneuve

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.

Yoga in a Mongolian yurt in Villeneuve

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.”

Aromatherapy Massage in ‘The White Tent’

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.

Leah, Dinah’s mother and herself mother to seven sons, her twin coloured eyes, generous height and fertile womb giving her unique status.

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.”

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37 thoughts on “Dinah, her Mothers and a woman named Ruth

    • Especially the female relationships, it left me wondering what was going on in the minds of the menfolk at times, but that mystery left for another day.

      Isn’t the yurt just great, it has such a wonderful, tranquil energy, makes me want to see inside the Red Tent too. I’m sure it had a wonderful, special, feminine energy.

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  1. I read it a long time ago, but remembering thinking that book was just so brilliant. She so firmly put me back in that time and mindset I could even imagine the advantage of being a multiple wife.

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  2. I hadn’t thought about this book since all our reading group read it about 10 years ago now. It was one of those completely unexpected hits that no one thought would be any good until one person tried it and was swept away. I wonder has she written anything else, I must go and investigate.

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    • I saw mention on the back that it was phenomenally popular with book clubs, I imagine it provoked interesting discussions.

      Interesting question, just had a look myself and I see she has written 3 novels since The Red Tent, but none has achieved the same popularity; a recent post on her blog mentions writing a cheque for her daughter’s university education, with the comment “Thank you Red Tent“; clearly her chief oeuvre.

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  3. The day in Villeneuve sounds divine and I totally love Ruth’s philosophy of walking 90 minutes for her massage! The Red Tent is an old favourite of mine and like the other commenters you are inspiring me to pick it up again!

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    • It was a wonderful day Patricia, I do so love my work and the special people I get to meet. It’s always a pleasure to discover these old favourites that we have somehow missed and I enjoy all the comments from the many who already been there.

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  4. Fabulous book! It’s one that has managed to keep its spot on my shelf despite many other purgings of books which means its an old favorite. Great review.

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  5. Yes, it’s an unforgettable book – fascinating that there it is, buried away in about nine verses in Exodus, the outrage that is at the heart of the story, and no-one ever mentioned it when we did bible study so thoroughly at school and Sunday School!
    Wish I lived in your neck of the woods to experience yoga and aromatherapy in that beautiful yurt.

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    • It’s great when a writer is inspired by a snippet of a story like this and gives voice to the characters through a compelling work of fiction, bringing the story alive and allowing us a glimpse of what it may have felt like to live that life and be confronted with those decisions.

      Yoga and aromatherapy in the yurt is wonderful indeed 🙂

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  6. Hang around my spaces any length of time, and you will see me mention The Red Tent. It’s one of my top two reads ever, and its impact reverberates to this day.

    *those who haven’t read it, stop here* When Dinah found her voice, goose bumps fired across my body. I applauded. I cheered, and I was enthralled. Right there she found her inner strength. But…

    there was so much more, beyond the story. The book stood as imagined but altogether plausible evidence of what we lost across recorded history through the imbalance of patriarchy. There are so many stories, true, what never made it down to us across time, and what a loss. The book empowered a fictional character. It empowered me. What we have in all of us together, can change the world.

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    • Thanks for sharing Nelle, a truly inspired reflection, it is true, this book while it has its stores of tragedies, really does inspire that solidarity between sisters, between women, something that perhaps in time will rise in ascendancy again.

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  7. A riveting and brilliant review, Claire. Looks like I’m the only one who has not read this book. Truth be told this is the first time I am hearing of it. I will do well to look for a copy. Sounds like a truly fascinating read, with all the biblical implications. Thanks for sharing

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  8. Hi Claire!

    Lovely post. Will comment later – got to do this fast !xxxxxx

    I have nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award.Thank you for being a bright and beautiful inspiration.
    The RULES for this award are as follows:
    Thank the person nominating your for the award and link back to them
    List ten things about yourself: Here is the link to my previous acceptance.http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/a-lovely-award-for-my-blog/
    Nominate SIX blogs you think deserve the Kreativ Blogger Award.

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