Book Tour: The Red Tent

May 26, 2009

in Book Club, Infertility

The first time I read The Red Tent:

  • I was living in the land in which Part One was set (today’s northern Syria).
  • I was undergoing IVF in isolation, away from family and friends. No internet (gasp!).
  • I was in the midst of producing the K-12 school play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (that year, it was my most prized creation — I so loved working with those kids on that story).

Anita Diamant’s novel spoke to my soul at that time. I wailed with Rachel about the unfairness of our barrenness, even as I secretly feared being pregnant and giving birth.

Years later, my life looks very different. I have two children, though I have never once been on the bricks. I am back in my homeland, surrounded by family and friends, my village who supports me in parenting. I still do listen to Joseph on occasion.

This time around, I STILL love the book, even though it speaks to me in different ways. While the first reading related to my individual circumstances, this second reading brought out some of the universality of the experience of being female, from a time when the Divine Feminine was receding, even as today She is re-emerging. (One could look at Abraham’s time as the beginning of a long-enduring round of patriarchy. Only now, several millennia later, are we approaching balance in masculine and feminine energies again.)

I specifically loved one line in the book (p. 40), when Leah was on the bricks, assisted by her sisters and the midwife. “Look at the royal throne of sisters you have,” said Inna. I see this sentiment as a metaphor for the ALI community, a royal throne of sisters supporting each other as we bear children, bear loads of varying weights, and bear witness to our stories.

Now for the book group questions.

Women’s relationships to higher power(s) are complicated. Jacob brings with him the one God, but that is not any of the gods of their childhoods. And it is to the gods of her family that Rachel calls with her simple and desperate ultimatum: “Give me children or I will die.” In the context of your own relationship (or lack thereof) to a higher power, do you feel entitled to the same kind of an ultimatum?
There is a scene in The Last Temptation of Christ where a pre-mission Jesus goes into the desert and draws a circle around himself, saying he will not move from the circle until God gives him what he wants — revealment.

Yes, I felt like drawing a circle around myself and giving an ultimatum to God. There was a time when I did think I would die from barrenness. And at the time, that would have been all right with me.

Dinah is awaited and welcomed by all of Jacob’s wives. The one daughter, the one to carry all their stories, all their voices. In the context of the book it is a literary device that allows the author to tell us stories of Jacob’s wives from their own perspectives. But what does it speak of to you? In your own life, have you felt, as Dinah does, a carrier of living memory? Do you feel your own voice to be better protected in the age of the blog, or do you see an enduring need for connection across generations?
I am one of four carriers of living memory in my clan — I am blessed with a mom and sisters who also preserve our family stories. They have better memories than I — I have to write everything down in order to capture. I am the Documentarian of my own stories, but we carry equally our family’s legends and lore.

I had never really thought of connecting across the generations through blogging. But now that I do (think about it), I would hope that my own journey to parenthood, as well as my larger spiritual journey, would speak to someone who may not even be born yet.

For a time uber-fertile Leah and barren Rachel did not speak to each other. “She could not smile at her sister while her own body remained fruitless.” Was there a time in your experience with infertility when you ceased communicating with your fertile friends/relatives. Did something finally bring you together or did you drift apart?
Elektra and I became friends when we were both single. We laughed with and counseled each other as we dated, through heartbreaks and losers.

Finally, I met Roger and Elektra met Rob. Both were the kind of men we’d only dreamed of — upstanding, funny, stable, loyal, lovable and loving. Our weddings took place within a year of each other’s. Roger and I went overseas to teach, Elektra and Rob went to Africa to do the same. We reunited in Denver, eager to begin raising our children together.

Elektra knew of our fertility troubles and was completely sensitive and compassionate. One day, Rob, who worked downtown in an office building near mine — who could not have known the devastating news I’d just received from my RE — burst into my office, erupting with news that was uncontainable. Elektra was pregnant! Isn’t that great!?

Elektra was furious at him for handling the news this way — she had been trying to find the “right” way (is there one?) to help me deal with her feast during my famine. It was impossible to be mad at Rob for doing what any newly expectant father would do — burst at the seams with happy tidings.

I did have to put space between us for awhile. But as it turned out, Tessa was born just a few months later. By the time Elektra gave birth, I was already an old hand at mothering an infant. We re-bonded and remain close friends to this day. Her son and daughter are just a few months younger than my daughter and son. We are certain the four of them will someday marry in a double ceremony and make us happy Grandmothers.

***
Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens . You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford. (Hint: It’s really, really good.)

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenna April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

You’ve led such a fascinating life! Reading this review makes me want to head to the library immediately to check out The Red Tent again. It’s been years and years since I discovered that book, and I’m fairly certain I passed it along to a friend when I was done. I love your “throne of sisters” comparison–so apt!

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loribeth April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Very cool about Syria & “Joseph”! Reading this book did make me want to drag out my soundtrack again, lol. Love your “royal throne of sisters” comparison to our blogging community too — I did think it was a great novel for us because of the support the women gave each other in the red tent, but that one line sums it all up so beautifully!

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Kristin April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Wow…I can’t imagine actually living in the land it set in while reading it. I love how you describe the time in the book as a time when “the Divine Feminine was receding”. That is such an interesting and accurate way of describing that time.

I also remember that line Inna spoke to Leah and love it as a description of the ALI community.

Great answers to the questions.

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Brenna April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

You’ve led such a fascinating life! Reading this review makes me want to head to the library immediately to check out The Red Tent again. It’s been years and years since I discovered that book, and I’m fairly certain I passed it along to a friend when I was done. I love your “throne of sisters” comparison–so apt!

Reply

loribeth April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Very cool about Syria & “Joseph”! Reading this book did make me want to drag out my soundtrack again, lol. Love your “royal throne of sisters” comparison to our blogging community too — I did think it was a great novel for us because of the support the women gave each other in the red tent, but that one line sums it all up so beautifully!

Reply

Kristin April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Wow…I can’t imagine actually living in the land it set in while reading it. I love how you describe the time in the book as a time when “the Divine Feminine was receding”. That is such an interesting and accurate way of describing that time.

I also remember that line Inna spoke to Leah and love it as a description of the ALI community.

Great answers to the questions.

Reply

Alana April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I LOVE the “Close Every Door” song from the “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” muscial.

What a wonderful book review! I especially liked your description of women who are “carriers of a living memory.” NEAT! :)

*ICLW*

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lassie April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I started The Red Tent years ago during IF treatment, but I wasn’t in a space to finish it. I think it was the first book I didn’t read to the end. I always knew I would go back and read the whole thing. I think this might be the right time.

I saw Donny Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I thought he was a nerd in the 80′s, but ended up having a crush on him in the 90′s thanks to that play!

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Martha April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Great book review, Lori, thank you. Thank you also for this incredible post, I feel shifted back and forth between the millenia and our present day.

In response to your questions-

I don’t think I could give an ultimatum to God. I feel like our lives are kind of like wheels set in motion to roll down or up the hills with bumps, dips, and sometimes really nice scenery.

Of course, We Are Sisters. This is one reason I don’t understand why women are so cruel to each other. If I can’t stand for my sister, then who can I stand for?

I am the carrier of memories, the holder of dreams and places not seen, but felt. Minimally through my blog because I feel electronics are in their own way very emphemeral, but so much so in the stories, traditions of my people. This is what future memories for the next generation are made of, this is what sustains us.

After my miscarriage and subsequent collapse of my first marriage, I had come to grips and finally to a hard fought and won peace that I might never be a Mom. I was okay with that, I had to be. It was choice to embrace what I had been given, nothing more, nothing less. Not a judgement on anyone else, just me fumbling to find my way.

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Alana April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I LOVE the “Close Every Door” song from the “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” muscial.

What a wonderful book review! I especially liked your description of women who are “carriers of a living memory.” NEAT! :)

*ICLW*

Reply

lassie April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I started The Red Tent years ago during IF treatment, but I wasn’t in a space to finish it. I think it was the first book I didn’t read to the end. I always knew I would go back and read the whole thing. I think this might be the right time.

I saw Donny Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I thought he was a nerd in the 80′s, but ended up having a crush on him in the 90′s thanks to that play!

Reply

Martha April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Great book review, Lori, thank you. Thank you also for this incredible post, I feel shifted back and forth between the millenia and our present day.

In response to your questions-

I don’t think I could give an ultimatum to God. I feel like our lives are kind of like wheels set in motion to roll down or up the hills with bumps, dips, and sometimes really nice scenery.

Of course, We Are Sisters. This is one reason I don’t understand why women are so cruel to each other. If I can’t stand for my sister, then who can I stand for?

I am the carrier of memories, the holder of dreams and places not seen, but felt. Minimally through my blog because I feel electronics are in their own way very emphemeral, but so much so in the stories, traditions of my people. This is what future memories for the next generation are made of, this is what sustains us.

After my miscarriage and subsequent collapse of my first marriage, I had come to grips and finally to a hard fought and won peace that I might never be a Mom. I was okay with that, I had to be. It was choice to embrace what I had been given, nothing more, nothing less. Not a judgement on anyone else, just me fumbling to find my way.

Reply

Julia April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Wow.. I read it first when pregnant with Monkey. It must’ve been wrenching to read while actually in the throes of IF…

Thank you for picking my questions in there. A circle– nice image. I should probably watch that movie, ha? And I have to say, my own reaction to that ultimatum echoes what you say about the spirituality of that age, though maybe not of this.

Psssst… the time Inna tells Leah about the royal throne, there’s no Dinah yet. :) It’s Rachel, but she’s also counted as a sister. :) :) :)

Oh, you know something pretty amazing? Rachel’s tomb is still marked, and there are still red strings tied to it that are then worn on wrists as sort of fertility hope strings and against the evil eye. Though, of course, Anita Diamant knew that when she wrote the end of the first part of the book… by which I mean we don’t really know if that’s the right spot, or if the strings have been continuously there, or if they are an older invention.

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Corey April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

One of my favorite books of all time. I am not a particularly spiritual person in any way but I do feel a spirituality around my period. I feel that it connects me to women throughout the ages- ancient women, young girls today, all of us, as well as to nature, the moon, the tides, all of it. I am so happy to know that we share this as well Lori! be well!
Corey

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Julia April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

Wow.. I read it first when pregnant with Monkey. It must’ve been wrenching to read while actually in the throes of IF…

Thank you for picking my questions in there. A circle– nice image. I should probably watch that movie, ha? And I have to say, my own reaction to that ultimatum echoes what you say about the spirituality of that age, though maybe not of this.

Psssst… the time Inna tells Leah about the royal throne, there’s no Dinah yet. :) It’s Rachel, but she’s also counted as a sister. :) :) :)

Oh, you know something pretty amazing? Rachel’s tomb is still marked, and there are still red strings tied to it that are then worn on wrists as sort of fertility hope strings and against the evil eye. Though, of course, Anita Diamant knew that when she wrote the end of the first part of the book… by which I mean we don’t really know if that’s the right spot, or if the strings have been continuously there, or if they are an older invention.

Reply

Corey April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

One of my favorite books of all time. I am not a particularly spiritual person in any way but I do feel a spirituality around my period. I feel that it connects me to women throughout the ages- ancient women, young girls today, all of us, as well as to nature, the moon, the tides, all of it. I am so happy to know that we share this as well Lori! be well!
Corey

Reply

Sunny April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

How powerful your experience must have been reading the book that first time. Without the Internet, it must have served as that connection for you. Thanks for sharing!

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Pamela April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I knew you were overseas when first you TTC, but I hadn’t connected the dots to *where* that was until now. How surreal it must have been to be reading this book then.

Like you I’ve lived with more than a few “surprise” announcements but it’s taken me longer to re-engage with those who couldn’t wrap their heads around why I needed some space … I’m happy that you and Elektra had such a close and compassionate relationship. Makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

As for your blog and your story, it’s wonderful that you’ve taken the time to write and share in a way that will be accessible long into the future…

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runamokamok April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

It is so cool to find someone else who loved this book so much. This book has been my favorite since the first page. I have read and re-read this book over the years. And to top it off I have gifted it to every female I know and love.
Its a timeless tale and I honestly believe that there is something in the book that speaks to ever single woman.

*ICLW*

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Sunny April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

How powerful your experience must have been reading the book that first time. Without the Internet, it must have served as that connection for you. Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Pamela April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I knew you were overseas when first you TTC, but I hadn’t connected the dots to *where* that was until now. How surreal it must have been to be reading this book then.

Like you I’ve lived with more than a few “surprise” announcements but it’s taken me longer to re-engage with those who couldn’t wrap their heads around why I needed some space … I’m happy that you and Elektra had such a close and compassionate relationship. Makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

As for your blog and your story, it’s wonderful that you’ve taken the time to write and share in a way that will be accessible long into the future…

Reply

runamokamok April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

It is so cool to find someone else who loved this book so much. This book has been my favorite since the first page. I have read and re-read this book over the years. And to top it off I have gifted it to every female I know and love.
Its a timeless tale and I honestly believe that there is something in the book that speaks to ever single woman.

*ICLW*

Reply

Banteringblonde April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

WOW that is so cool. I loved this book – our book club read it and it was such an interesting discussion!

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Denver Jen April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I absolutely loved The Red Tent. I read it while trying to get pregnant (but still ignorant to the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy). I’ve been thinking about revisiting this book lately. Thanks for the great review!

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Baby Smiling In Back Seat April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

IVF in isolation must be like birthing a baby without a midwife. Not that I had any friends or family helping me through my IVF cycles… but at least I had the internet!

How amazing to read the book in its location. I have sometimes wanted to wait to read a book until I went there, but usually don’t have the patience. I’ve also sometimes wanted to bring a book along on a trip because it took place in my destination, and have actually brought such a book along on a couple of trips, but I never have time to read during my travels!

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chicklet April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I haven’t read it but I’m thinking there’s a bunch I could relate to in it – particularly the stuff re distancing myself from those having children easily. Even to this day I still don’t like fertiles much and can’t really relate.

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Banteringblonde April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

WOW that is so cool. I loved this book – our book club read it and it was such an interesting discussion!

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Denver Jen April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I absolutely loved The Red Tent. I read it while trying to get pregnant (but still ignorant to the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy). I’ve been thinking about revisiting this book lately. Thanks for the great review!

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Baby Smiling In Back Seat April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

IVF in isolation must be like birthing a baby without a midwife. Not that I had any friends or family helping me through my IVF cycles… but at least I had the internet!

How amazing to read the book in its location. I have sometimes wanted to wait to read a book until I went there, but usually don’t have the patience. I’ve also sometimes wanted to bring a book along on a trip because it took place in my destination, and have actually brought such a book along on a couple of trips, but I never have time to read during my travels!

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chicklet April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I haven’t read it but I’m thinking there’s a bunch I could relate to in it – particularly the stuff re distancing myself from those having children easily. Even to this day I still don’t like fertiles much and can’t really relate.

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luna April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I love this book. wish I had the time to re-read it for this, but you’ve inspired me to pick it up again.

how cool to have read it in syria. I read it while traveling in france, and I have a distinct memory of telling M to go for a walk by himself one day so I could finish it on the hammock in peace… then I read it again.

I remember feeling like there was such a comradery among the sisterhood of women who become mothers, and later feeling that I was left out of that.

it’s lovely to think of the ALI community as that throne, the bricks on which we labor through infertility and loss and emerge transformed on the other side.

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luna April 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

I love this book. wish I had the time to re-read it for this, but you’ve inspired me to pick it up again.

how cool to have read it in syria. I read it while traveling in france, and I have a distinct memory of telling M to go for a walk by himself one day so I could finish it on the hammock in peace… then I read it again.

I remember feeling like there was such a comradery among the sisterhood of women who become mothers, and later feeling that I was left out of that.

it’s lovely to think of the ALI community as that throne, the bricks on which we labor through infertility and loss and emerge transformed on the other side.

Reply

Lollipop Goldstein April 7, 2010 at 2:40 am

I love the story of Elektra because it shows the elasticity that exists in good female friendships–where you can go and come back as needed (not as wanted; but as needed, if that difference makes any sense).

I also love this: “While the first reading related to my individual circumstances, this second reading brought out some of the universality of the experience of being female” because it made me think about how many times I’ve related to a book on one level the first time and a different level the second read through.

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Lollipop Goldstein April 7, 2010 at 2:40 am

I love the story of Elektra because it shows the elasticity that exists in good female friendships–where you can go and come back as needed (not as wanted; but as needed, if that difference makes any sense).

I also love this: “While the first reading related to my individual circumstances, this second reading brought out some of the universality of the experience of being female” because it made me think about how many times I’ve related to a book on one level the first time and a different level the second read through.

Reply

Phoebe April 7, 2010 at 2:40 am

I don’t know that I could read this book right now, but I too love the play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”!

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Phoebe April 7, 2010 at 2:40 am

I don’t know that I could read this book right now, but I too love the play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”!

Reply

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