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.)