The Red Tent: The Once Untold Stories of Women

Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

As you have seen me mention a million times on this blog and Instagram, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is hands down my favorite book of all time. I love the Hulu tv series, the movie from the early 90s, and any and all things about The Handmaid’s Tale that can help me learn more about the fictional world of Gilead. After watching the Hulu series for a bit, I discovered Red All Over: A Handmaid’s Tale Podcast hosted by bay area comedians, Molly Sanchez and Kelly Anneken. First of all, I will always be excited to hear about work coming from women in the bay area, as a northern California girl myself. Although they ended the podcast after the third season of the Hulu show and their coverage of The Testaments, it is still my favorite podcast. They are so incredibly smart and funny and help me to digest this incredibly difficult subject matter in a way that is so meaningful. Plus, it’s so nice to listen to comedians that get and make amazing book jokes.

During their podcast episodes they always mention other books they are loving and that are relevant to the content of the show or book. One that kept coming up was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. If you are at all familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale, then you know the importance of the Genesis verse that serves as one of the novel’s epigraphs and the basis for the Sons of Jacob’s creation of the handmaids:

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, ‘Give me children, or else I die.’ And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, ‘Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?’ And she said, ‘Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.’

(Genesis 30:1-3)

With this being one of the founding ideas of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, I was incredibly drawn to read The Red Tent, which tells the same story but from the perspective of a woman central to the story. And since I have been reading so many books, I decided to listen to this on audio because I just did not want to wait any longer to dive in!

The Red Tent is narrated by Dinah, a daughter of Leah and Jacob. In the bible, we barely learn much of anything about Dinah. But Anita Diamant expands her story that gives insight into the world of the women in the bible that are largely glossed over. In such a patriarchal religion, women’s stories are typically left out or minimized. But as Diamant re-imagines these stories, we are brought into a true sisterhood of strength and resilience. The red tent is a place that the women of the novel go during times of menstruation or to give birth. These sacred times and this place for only women are described in a way that is empowering. The narrative takes us from the marriage of Jacob to Rachel and Leah all the way through the end of Dinah’s life.

I cannot recommend this book enough! So much of our literature references biblical stories so even if you are not even remotely religious at all, it’s so helpful to know these stories to better understand allusions and symbolism in fiction. Although my mom was Catholic, my sister and I were not really raised to follow any particular faith. So, my knowledge of biblical stories is limited to the New Testament/Christian Origins and the Women in Christianity courses I took in college. But as I pursued my degree in English literature, I found that I wished I had known more so that I could pull more out of the texts I was reading. Reading The Red Tent was such a fun way to do that for me. One of the reasons I decided to major in English literature and sociology while minoring in gender studies is because I am fascinated by women’s stories, and up until relatively recently, these stories were largely still untold.

              After reading The Red Tent, I saw that there was a Lifetime mini-series based on the book! I will definitely be checking that out soon! I hope you check out The Red Tent; you can head to the bottom of this post for a link to the book. And although there won’t be any new episodes of the Red All Over Podcast by Kelly & Molly, I hope you check that out here as well! They are incredibly funny and smart and are always working on amazing projects!

You can order The Red Tent or any of the books referenced in this post here!

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When She Woke: When the Line Between Church and State is Blurred

Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

If you’ve been paying attention to my blog, then you already know that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is my favorite book of all time. I’ve always loved dystopian novels and women’s rights are obviously always topics of concern for me. After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, I was constantly on the hunt for anything similar since I didn’t think we would ever get a sequel (see this post for how Atwood proved me wrong!). I searched blogs and Pinterest for suggestions for books like it and I’ve read a few that have been listed. One that came up a few times in the last several years is Hillary Jordan’s novel When She Woke.

The story is set in the not-so-distant future. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale where America is no longer and a new theocratic regime has taken over, When She Woke is set in a country that is still very much America, but the line between church and state is not as clearly defined as it once was. Extreme conservative views have become pervasive and have taken root in government at levels we have never seen. Not only is the majority of society anti-choice when it comes to abortion, but there is now extreme consequence to anyone receiving or assisting someone in receiving an abortion. Criminals are now “chromed” meaning they undergo a process that tints their skin tone so that all of society immediately knows the nature of their crime. Our main character, Hannah, is a Red. She is charged with murder for receiving an abortion. The novel takes us through the impossible decision she must make in such a religious and conservative society and the consequences she faces. We see how society responds to a woman like Hannah and the punishment she receives beyond just the altering of her appearance as she attempts to navigate this new life and chase freedom, if that’s even possible for her.

I’m drawn to any book that discusses women’s rights, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Although women today aren’t forced to alter their appearance when they get an abortion in our society, the right to choose is still being threatened by factions of the country every day. A woman’s right to choose what is best for her still remains between her and her doctor, but women are unfortunately not free from the scrutiny that comes from making such a difficult choice. The concepts of Hillary Jordan’s novel are partly inspired by The Scarlet Letter, but more so inspired by the reality that women continue to face every day. When She Woke is great for any fans of dystopian novels, like myself. It’s also great for those that are concerned with women’s rights (so hopefully, everyone). Keep an eye out on the blog for future reviews of other books that have been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale! You know I will find them, read them, and review them for you!

CHECK OUT THE BOOKS REFERENCED IN THIS POST!

The Testaments: The Book I’ve Waited 10 Years For

Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

As they say, history does not repeat itselfbut it rhymes.

Margaret Atwood – The Testaments

I have loved reading ever since I learned how. As a child, I loved to be read to by both of my late grandfathers, I read anything I could get my hands on, and I started a pretty healthy book collection even when I was young, thanks to my family. I’ve loved books my entire life. When I was in high school, I took honors English classes and decided to take AP English my senior year. When I got my class schedule the first day of school in 12th grade, my friends and I saw that we were in AP English, but we did not have the teacher that we expected to have. Mrs. Hanna was a surprise to us that day but she ended up being one of the few teachers I’ve had that changed my life. Her love of literature and the way that she taught us to read and write about it ignited a passion for reading that was far beyond what I expected. She taught incredible classics that year, but the one that will forever stand out in my mind is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

To this day, I can confidently say that it is still my favorite book of all time. I’ve always loved dystopian novels but something about the way this was written was special. It’s so dense in prose and somehow beautifully and viscerally gets to the essence of what it is like to experience life as a woman. Published in 1985 by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale quickly became a classic. Set in the not-so-distant future, it gives us a glimpse into what could happen if the country was taken over by a theocracy where women have no rights. America is no longer, and Gilead has taken its place. Women’s only purpose is to bare children in a society where birth rates have plummeted. Fertile women who are unmarried or have what the government has deemed as “moral stains” are forced to serve the men of the upper class as handmaids. They are ritualistically raped every month by the Commander of their household in the presence of the Wife in order to bare children for the family. Our narrator through this terrifying journey is a handmaid named Offred who gives us deep insight into the mind of a woman who is held captive in a world that only values her ability to produce children. I can never praise The Handmaid’s Tale enough. If you have made it to this point in your life and haven’t read it yet, stop what you’re doing and get your hands on a copy.

In 2017, to my absolute surprise and delight, Hulu released a TV series based on the novel. I was skeptical because this is my favorite novel of all time. But when I watched the first episode, I was absolutely blown away. The care that the show makers have taken to give the viewers such a beautifully, terrifying experience is true art. Now the first season of the show ends with the end of the novel. The show has now completed three full seasons and is already hard at work on season four (Praise be!) which means that they have moved beyond the original novel. Now, I’ve ALWAYS wanted to know what happened after the end of the novel, but I wanted to know what Margaret Atwood herself would write.

Well last year I found out that we would get just that: The Testaments. I was ecstatic. I had always longed for a sequel but I truly never thought we would get one. I had countdowns set for the September 10th release date, I pre-ordered my copy, and bought tickets to my local theater to watch the live interview with Margaret Atwood from London. When the book was released, I could not wait to get to my local bookstore to pick up my copy after work, so naturally, I also purchased the audiobook so that I could listen on my commute and all day at work. Once I was off work, I drove over to Barnes & Noble to pick up my copy and read during any spare moments I had. Between listening to the audiobook and reading whenever I could, I finished that 415-page-long book in less than 24 hours.

Without spoiling plot for either book, The Testaments is told from the perspectives of three different women: Aunt Lydia, a woman in the upper ranks of Gilead; Agnes, a young girl brought up in Gilead; and Daisy; a girl that was raised in Canada. The three different perspectives offer a wider range of voices and experiences in relationship to the theocracy that is Gilead. The story of The Testaments takes place fifteen years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale so we are truly able to see how the society has evolved, grown, and developed. I have never anticipated and craved a book like I did with The Testaments. But like many highly anticipated novels, there is the possibility of disappointment. While I have only waited ten years, many have waited 34 years for this book.

Overall, I loved The Testaments. Having the opportunity to dive back into Margaret Atwood’s world of Gilead and her beautiful prose was what I craved, and I was so grateful for it. The thing that I hoped to get out of the book was a greater understanding of the foundation and inner-workings of Gilead as a régime and Atwood definitely delivered in a beautiful way. Now, some of the writing felt slightly juvenile, but I got the feeling that it was intentional given the age of two of our narrators. The thing that surprised me the most was that there were huge plot points taken from the later seasons of the TV show that ended up in the books. I never in a million year would have expected her to do this. Now with that being said, I don’t think you have to watch the show to understand The Testaments, although I HIGHLY recommend the show! I think both novels and the show can stand on their own. I recommend The Testaments to fans of Margaret Atwood and fans of The Handmaid’s Tale. If you are hoping for a perspective similar to Offred’s and pacing similar to the original novel, you will be disappointed. The Testaments is much more fast-paced and plot-driven than The Handmaid’s Tale. But if you are hoping to gain a better understanding of Gilead and the world-building aspect of that society, you will love The Testaments. While I know many readers were severely underwhelmed and disappointed with this release, it was exactly what I hoped to get out of it, and for that I am grateful that Margaret Atwood is still with us and was able to release this highly anticipated sequel to one of the greatest classics of all time.

Shop the books referenced in this post!

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