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‘The Red Tent’ gives a voice and a history to a group of people who are often overlooked; the women of the Bible had stories to tell, and their society and culture was complex and fascinating.
This story gives an insight into that culture and turns the lives of one of those women into a gripping read. Finding books which can hold their own against this wasn’t easy – I hope I’ve managed to pique your interest with this list.
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If you want a book like ‘The Red Tent’, then you’ve found it. Sticking with the Biblical theme, this is the story of the most famous woman of them all. Taking place years after the death of Jesus on the cross, Mary lives alone with her grief at the loss of her son.
Was her son the performer of miracles, or was he simply her son? All Mary can see is the boy she loved and lost. And then two men turn up at her door, wanting her to relive his last day in order to tell it to the world.
This is a very similar idea to ‘The Red Tent’, taking a woman from the Bible and giving her a story of her own but this time, it’s the most famous woman in the Bible, and she’s recast not as the personification of meek and mild, but as a mother grieving for her boy.
Toibin is a wonderful writer, and this book is no exception.
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The Biblical depiction of Delilah is that of the perpetrator of Samson’s downfall. But who was she, really? We’ll never truly know, but this story is an attempt – a good one – to make her real.
The Philistines and Israelites are at war. When Delilah’s stepfather offers her as a wife to the Israelite warrior Samson, she is unimpressed. But then, the chief Philistine enlists her to help bring Samson down, so she seduces him, and in doing so, connects not only with him but with her Israelite heritage. As a result, she finds herself torn in two.
Like ‘The Red Tent’, this book brings biblical people to life, giving them emotions and depth whilst exploring the role of one woman in a male-dominated society rather than developing the notion of female society.
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The last of the books like ‘The Red Tent’ is centred around Leah, the niece and servant of Pontius Pilate. Leah is due to be married to a Roman Centurion, Alban of Gaul. She is not happy with the arrangement, he sees it as a political move.
But they have a task to complete first. Pilate wants to know what has really happened to the body of the man they put to death, and he commands Alban to find out. Meanwhile, his wife has set Leah the same task – they both want to find out what the disciples are planning. Neither Pilate and his wife, nor Alban and Leah, have any idea that the others are working on the same mission.
This is a book about the impact of Jesus, but again, as seen mainly by a woman. It has loads of historical detail but is also a story of the developing romance between Leah and Alban.
There are plenty of women from history whose stories are fascinating and they aren’t all in the Bible. Ancient Egypt, for example, had its share of strong female characters.
So here are suggestions for a couple of books for you if you want to move beyond the Bible but still want to explore more personal accounts of women in history in books similar to ‘The Red Tent’.
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I discovered when I went to Egypt several years ago that I knew pretty much nothing about the history of Ancient Egypt. I thought I was well informed – I knew a bit about the pyramids, and the burial chamber of Tutankhamun. As it turned out, my knowledge was extremely sketchy. So here is a book that can put some flesh on those bones.
This is the story of Hatshepsut, the longest serving indigenous queen of Ancient Egypt. After the death of her older sister, Hatshepsut marries her half-brother Thut, which ensures his claim to the throne.
When Thut dies however, Hatshepsut becomes regent to her two-year-old nephew, and must now rule Egypt.
This has all the historical detail you could want, but at the same time creates a picture of a real woman, in a unique position.
Image Source: Gilmore Guide to Books
We’re back in a similar era to the Bible, but this time the women involved are fictional, although the event they are caught up in is real.
It’s 70 A.D., and in the Judean desert on the mountain of Masada nearly one thousand Jews are under attack by Roman armies. (It is said that only seven people survived the siege).
Hoffman has created four women, each with her own story to tell, who end up enduring the siege. What they have in common is that they are all dovekeepers and form their own mini-community tending to the dovecots of Masada.
A story packed with historical detail, Hoffman allows you to climb right inside the experience through this four, very different, women.
It’s inescapable that most of history revolves round men – there are women who appear as strong characters in their own right but they are few and far between.
Here, I’ve suggested some books which gives voices to those who are otherwise not heard from (even if, like Mary, they are much heard of!). I hope you too enjoy them and if you know of any other books in the same vein, let us know!