“And now you come to me–women with hands and feet as soft as a queen’s, with more cooking pots than you need, so safe in childbed and so free with your tongues. You come hungry for the story that was lost. You crave words to fill the great silence that swallowed me, and my mothers, and my grandmothers before them.” (p 3)
There are books so completely imagined and executed that each time you open the pages you fall into the world created there and can’t wait to return–books that open your understanding and leave you with genuine sadness at their completion. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, is one of them.
Following my superstitious, multiple referral program of reading (if three or more people recommend a book to me, I read it), I picked up this book with high hopes. I wasn’t disappointed for a moment. I love a great epic–a book that spans generations and takes me through a character’s life from beginning to end. This book did just that, while giving me a greater understanding of the early Jewish culture.
Diamant did a lot of research on the culture at the time of the book, but there wasn’t much more to be found than the sparse sentences in the Bible about her characters of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Dinah, and others. She used her imagination to fill in the gulfs between the sentences, and what resulted was a fascinating story of complex familial relations, and the strength of women.
Another great work of biblical historical fiction I just finished was Sarah, by Marek Halter. It is the story of the woman born Sarai of Ur, her abandonment of her father’s house, her barrenness, and her marriage to Abram. Like The Red Tent, Sarah breathes life and feeling into a culture broadly, but not deeply, represented in the bible. I’m glad to see that this is the first book in a trilogy.
After reading these books I feel a greater connection to the people in the bible, and have a new way of reading the material. It has illuminated the text for me, if not factually, than emotionally. I highly recommend both.