Tag Archives: Review

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

 

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Review: Wintergirls

31 May

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Speak (2009), Viking (2009) Scholastic (2011)

  • ISBN-13: 978-0-14-241557-3
  • ISBN-10: 0-14-241557-X
  • YA fiction

“I     won’t     pollute      my       insides     with    Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either.  Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me.  I am shiny and pink inside, clean.  Empty is good.  Empty is strong.”

Wintergirls, chapter 003.00

The Plot:

Eighteen year old Lia suddenly learns that her former best friend, Cassie, died alone in a motel room.  Cassie and Lia used to be inseperable, united in their life-threatening quest to both be size oo.  Haunted by the fact she didn’t answer Cassie’s calls on the night she died, Lia struggles to hide her deadly secret…her promise.  Lia is still determined to be the skinniest girl in school.

Book Snitch’s thoughts:

Narrated by Lia throughout, this novel squeezes your insides with horror from the opening chapter.  Anderson’s narrative style is constructed so that we see the frightening pathology of anorexia nervosa right from the second chapter where Lia makes excuses for not having any breakfast:

Beacuse I can’t let myself want them because I don’t need a muffin (410), I don’t want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag.”

The power of the novel is delivered through Anderson’s vivid symbolism, which conveys the impact that anorexia has on Lia and her family.  Lia’s grossly distorted perceptions of herself are conveyed through her unforgiving stream of consiousness, and the chilling coldness motif  which shows her physical and emotional deterioration.  Anderson portrays Lia’s obsessions with weight in obvious and subtle ways, including writing the chapter numbers as though they are on a scale, and in Lia’s careful lists of food (with the calorie count always added in parentheses).

Who should read Wintergirls?

Book Snitch recommends this novel for mature YA readers.

Notes for educators

This novel doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of anorexia. The narrative is intense in several places, containing descriptions of death, physical and emotional self-harm and the supernatural.

This novel would work well as supplimentary independent reading in a unit based on the theme of identity.  Book Snitch would recommend responding to the text through activities related to imagery and symbolism in Wintergirls.

One possibility is to have students create their own book trailers using Creative Commons licensed images would be a great way to see if they have understood Anderson’s use of symbolism.  Alternatively, students could create their own films promoting awareness of anorexia, particularly the emotional impact it has on the sufferer and their friends and family.

More information about using iMovie and Creative Commons licensed images with your students is available on Resources and Teaching ideas page.