Tag Archives: Historical fiction

Book review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

8 Feb

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  St. Martin’s Press (Kindle edition sold by MacMillan CA) April 2010

Image courtesy of Goodreads

  • ISBN: 0312169787
  • Historical fiction

The plot

Diamant re imagines the story of Dinah, a character who is briefly mentioned in the Bible as having a tragic fate in the book of Genesis.  Dinah is the daughter of Jacob, whose story will probably be more familiar to readers of Genesis.  Dinah greets the reader as an old friend and shares the story of her life, starting before her birth with the arrival of the taciturn but strong Jacob in the land of the Canaanites.  Dinah reveals the complex dynamics of her large family, with the recurrent motif of the women’s respite in the novel’s namesake, the red tent.  Here, in a tent that is characterized by the colour of life, women gather to rest during their monthly cycles or give birth.  Dinah reveals the spiritual practices and physical rituals of the Canaanite women,and they endure joy, grief, jealousy, life and death.  Then Dinah comes of age, and their world is changed forever…

Book Snitch’s thoughts

I was initially curious about this novel, as I have taught The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I recognized a link between Diamant’s story and one of the biblical allusions Atwood uses.  Atwood references the story of Rachel, Bilah and Jacob in her novel, specifically because one of the Genesis stories relates Rachel asking her husband, Jacob, to have children with her handmaiden Bilah as she is unable to conceive. In The Red Tent, Jacob is Dinah’s father and her mother, Leah, is sister to both Rachel and Bilah.  I wanted to see how this strange story of surrogacy and the brief but tragic mention of Dinah in the Bible played out in a novel, as I have found the brief references to tragic stories in the Bible a little unsatisfying as narratives.

I was quickly drawn into the complex dynamics of this family, particularly the primal desire of all of the sisters to have children.  The descriptions of childbirth in this biblical era were pretty captivating.  The narrative style, with Dinah as the narrator, was fine though predictable.  The plot itself in the first two thirds of the novel had a lot of momentum, but I felt like this waned in the close of the novel, and the resolution was anti-climatic.  This said, Diamant succeeded in creating a more tangible glimpse into the ancient past, and the alien customs of the Canaanites and Egyptians.

Who should read this?

I would recommend this to my female friends as a pretty interesting lens into the life of women in the biblical era.  Those who have an interest in historical fiction, or would like to further imagine the lives those depicted in Genesis might also enjoy The Red Tent.

Book Snitch Rating:  3/5 stars

 

Review – Rose Under Fire

21 Jun

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.  Disney Book Group, September 2013

Image courtesy of NetGalley

Image courtesy of NetGalley

The Plot

Rose Justice, a young American pilot, is captured by the German army during World War Two as she is returning from a mission and is sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp.  Rose meets extraordinarily strong women in the camp, called “the Rabbits” who were used for medical experimentation by the Nazis.  Rose faces unimaginable horror in the camp, and learns the true meaning of hunger, desperation and the lengths to which the female prisoners will go to survive.

Book Snitch’s thoughts

Female prisoners during selection at Ravensbruck.  Image licensed under public domain via Wikimedia

Female prisoners during selection at Ravensbrück. Image licensed under public domain via Wikimedia

I read the pre-release version of Rose Under Fire after requesting it from NetGalley.  I was drawn to the premise of the novel, as I have previously taught World War II and Holocaust themed works through the novel by Joyn Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and the non-fiction memoirs: Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man, and Elie Wiezel’s Night.  I was drawn to Wein’s decision to portray the experience of concentration camp incarceration from a female perspective.  It is a powerful and challenging read which gives a unique view into the Holocaust by focusing on the merciless medical experiments performed on the female prisoners at Ravensbrück.

Wein uses Rose as the first person narrator, and structures a large portion of the novel as a series of Rose’s diary entries describing her experiences at the camp (both techniques which will appeal to young adult readers).  Though the narrative at times seemed repetitive and drawn-out, Wein arguably captures the experience of tediously enduring time, which Rose and her fellow prisoners face as they wait for death or liberation.

One of the key motifs throughout the narrative are the poems that Rose recites for the other prisoners in return for extra bread.  The poems accentuate the misery which Rose and her fellow prisoners and friends endure at Ravensbrück, as well as revealing the fragile beauty of life.

Wein is careful to balance the horror of Rose’s descriptions with the touching portrayal of friendships and loyalty that she experiences in Ravensbrück.  There are even moments of humour, where we are reminded that many of the young women in the concentration camp were only teenagers.

Who should read this?

I agree with NetGalley’s description that this is a novel for readers aged fourteen years and older.  Although this is a companion novel, it can be read as a stand-alone novel also.

Rose Under Fire certainly feminizes the theme of war, and reminds young readers that some of the greatest battles fought during World War II were personal ones, without physical weapons and soldiers.

4 stars