The Rent Tent by Anita Diamant. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover

In Print
From the genres of family saga and biblical epic comes The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. This historical fiction novel tells the stories of the wives of biblical patriarch Jacob, as they experienced life, death and birth.

While told from the point of view of Dinah—Jacob's one daughter among many sons, and thus the one who spent enough time in the red tent with her mothers to learn the stories of their lives and family—this novel begins with the stories of how Jacob came to marry four of the sisters in one family, and how those sisters suffered and triumphed through the years of childbirth despite nature's dangers and family politics. The conceit of the novel is, of course, that the stories were told to Dinah who is now telling them to us. Finally, upon Dinah's birth, her own story starts. This book follows her childhood with brother Joseph, the closest age-mate among her brothers, through the days of her growing up to her eventual marriage and its disastrous consequences.

Book Cover

On Audio
The Red Tent is told in a generally chronological, but otherwise cyclical, folkloric style, which is to say that much of this novel follows its original conceit of telling the stories of these biblical women as they passed the stories down among themselves, stories that were not preserved by the patriarchal storytelling of the biblical tradition. The result of this conceit is that much of this novel—until, say, the last third—is told in a way much like older women recount to one another and to youngsters the anecdotal histories of their life. In other words, family stories are often only engaging to the people who lived them and their relations (and sometimes not even then). This novel flounders around in terms of plot for most of the first half, representing only a collection of births, marriages and deaths, without any greater forward thrust¬—after all, the main character doesn't even get born until a couple chapters in. Add to this a particularly ill-matched audio reading by Carol Bilger in a tone that sounds more appropriate to the audio version of a seventh-grade social studies textbook, sapping dry any moments of potential pathos.

If anecdotal family stories are your thing, then you'll probably enjoy this book. But the aimless beginning coupled with a saw-it-a-mile-away ending makes this book a lackluster read.


S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.