Anita Diamant gave herself the best present she could have when she turned 40: she began to write The Red Tent. "I had been writing nonfiction for 20 years and I wanted a change," says the Boston-based author of numerous guides to Jewish life. "This was a way to challenge myself. I had no deadline, no contract, no financial incentive. It was the most open-ended thing I'd ever written, both liberating and daunting."
She turned to the Bible for inspiration, intending at first to write about Rachel and Leah. But the dramatic story of Dinah, Jacob's only daughter, whom the biblical text describes as being raped by Shechem the Hivite and avenged by her brothers Simon and Levi, caught her attention instead: "Sex, greed, betrayal--it's all in the story," she says. "It was perfect for someone looking for a strong plot."
Readers respond to the relationships between mothers and daughters that propel the story, says Diamant. "People have told me the book has made them pick up a Bible for the first time in 25 years. Some are angry that I've taken liberties with the text. They don't understand that Jewish tradition gives us permission to do that."
She doesn't perceive the women in the book as Jewish. "This is pre-Sinai, pre-law. What it does say is that women are the authors and agents of their own lives, that it takes courage to give birth regardless of century. It says that loving is a risk and that it's easier to live with the support and love of other women. It celebrates our strength and acknowledges our diversity."
Diamant, whose husband converted before they married, has a daughter in high school.