Reading part one of this book, my instinct was that I shouldn’t be. I felt uncomfortable. I had the feeling of being an intruder on the personal lives of a group of women, hearing their stories of love and loss, with personal details that as a man I found difficult to hear. Of course, my instinct was wrong.
The tragedies that the characters face are life issues, that are as real and current now as they were then. We can only be grateful that we live in an era when medical support is so much better, physically and mentally, that reduces the occurrences.
Interestingly, at the same time as reading The Red Tent, I found myself drawn to reading Walking Through Winter by Katherine Gantlett, which for anyone facing issues of loss, especially to miscarriage or still birth, is an exceptionally helpful guide that will support you through the pain, grief and trauma. I have some experience of these issues and am encouraged that someone in the Christian community is now starting to talk openly about the issues a little more, and is looking to offer support. It is also worth noting, that the support is valid and needed for men, as well as women.
The Red Tent also highlights to me that there is an important place for writing graphically about topics that can often be seen as being “taboo”. Anita Diamant shares the reality, in an authentic cultural setting, in a real but sensitive way. This is an aspect of writing that as Christians we need to be aware of – it seems there is sometimes an attitude of “sugar-coating” our writing to avoid the risk of a reader taking offence.
I thought this when I was writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree. I felt strongly that when describing the whipping and crucifixion of Jesus, it was so important to know the details of what He went through, and that those details would likely push the readers beyond their comfort zone. It is not easy to read. These stories are brutal. But the world is not sugar-coated and sometimes it is important to push the boundaries, not with the intention of causing offence, shocking or being crude, but communicating the harsh realities of life and death.
The Bible often does this, presenting some hideously graphic stories of life, death, war and destruction, albeit it in a more matter-of-fact way, that enables us to learn our history and God’s hand on it, and to know the nature and intentions of a loving God.
Anita Diamant follows this principle so well … which gave me even more cause for concern when I was half-way through reading The Red Tent, knowing what was coming up later in the story (Genesis 34)! Her representation of this passage of scripture is true to the facts presented, but dressed in detail and colour that graphically highlights the horror of what happened, through the eyes of an innocent.
The Red Tent is a gripping account of the whole life story of Dinah, so well written that it engages and pulls the reader in. Not always comfortable or entertaining, but certainly compelling.