Most helpful critical review
A Good Story in Poor Faith
on March 15, 2004
As a fictional story, _The Red Tent_ is vivid, rich and beautiful. It is feminist in what I consider the very best sense of that word: valuing female-ness, in all its aspects (sisterhood, menstruation, sex, pregnancy, birth and motherhood), for its own sake, and not making any attempt to make women be like men. It gives the impression, unlike so much of the Biblical fiction I've read, of being utterly true to the times it records. But therein, unfortunately, lies the problem.
As a fantasy story or mere historical fiction, with completely "invented" characters, this book would not disturb me. But instead it takes the female characters of the Bible, the wives and mothers and daughters of the Patriarchs, and portrays them as truly pagan women, with little or no interest in or respect for the God of Abraham, whose worship even by the men of the family seems tenuous at best. To see, for instance, Rebecca portrayed as a pagan oracle, insistent on perpetuating pagan rites among the females of her family, is profoundly troubling to me. I don't doubt that the Patriarchs' families were influenced by the paganism of the world surrounding them, but to envision these women as pagan priestesses seems to go too far--at the least the idea saddens me greatly. And I'm perplexed, since the author appears to be Jewish and has written several works of non-fiction about how to live as a Jew. Why such a woman would write a book that has more in common with neo-paganism than the Biblical narrative is a mystery to me. Because for all this book *has* (and it has much), the one really crucial thing it *lacks* is any hint of faith in the God of Israel. I imagine for a lot of readers that absence wouldn't be felt at all, but I felt it, and for me it spoiled what was otherwise a profoundly good book about what it is (or should be) like to be a woman.