Top critical review
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A good book that may be too radical for some
on March 10, 2000
First of all, I am very disappointed that Amazon posted reviews that spoil the ending of the book. The great mystery this book purports to answer is what happened to Dinah after her rape. Did she ever find love and/or happiness, and if so how? Some of the reviews here give away those plot points, and diminished my enjoyment of the novel.
Second, comparisons to "Mists of Avalon" are very apt. This is a retelling of a classic story from a woman's point of view. However, unlike "Mists" or "Firebrand" the story being retold is central to major world religions. Readers have a lot more invested in the portrayal of Biblical characters than in Arthurian Britain or ancient Troy.
BE FOREWARNED. These are not the matriarchs you grew up with. They do not worship the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the Bible, Rachel & Leah's father worshipped idols, and the women in "The Red Tent" never convert to Jacob's faith. IF THIS DISTURBS YOU, YOU MAY WANT TO SKIP THIS BOOK. I think that's where many of the negative reviews are coming from. Compare Mists of Avalon with Sword & the Stone and earlier Arthurian stories -- this is just as radical a revision. If you're not prepared for that, stay away. Frankly, I'm still a bit bothered by the concept of non-Jewish matriarchs. But the fact that I'm still mulling over my reactions a week after I finished shows how powerful the book is.
The book presents a rich portrayal of the historical period. Diamant did a lot of research into daily life and paints a very vivid world. Frankly, I find Dinah a less interesting character than the matriarchs -- Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. While Dinah is supposedly the focus, she was a minor character originally, so there's not much background. However, we already have a wealth of stories about the matriarchs, so those stories become all the more fascinating when compared to that background. [The motives behind the Leah/Rachel switch at Jacob's wedding, for example.]
It's a very good book. I won't say it's a great book, because I am still disturbed by parts, but it's definitely a powerful story.