I can't imagine why I bought this book. You see, I keep a little notebook with the names of books I want to read to help me when I shop, particularly at used book stores. This novel was listed in my notebook--I must have seen some mention as I was noodling around on the computer which made me think I would like it. Well, I didn't like it, not at all. I can't imagine anyone liking it, but evidently my judgment of the potential popularity of a book is dead wrong, because I now find out that this must have been wildly popular around 1997-98. Consulting the Amazon site, I see that the novel has over 1,000 customer reviews, most favorable.
The book jacket bills this as a historical novel about "God's women." It is the story of Dinah, who is only briefly mentioned in Genesis. She is the daughter of Jacob and Leah, the granddaughter of Isaac and Rebecca, the half-sister of Joseph (the one with the coat of many colors), and the indirect cause of the slaughter by her brothers of all the men in a town.
Here are the reasons I disliked this book.
I have always presumed that the author of a historical novel took reported history and then added embellishments, interpretations, motivations, whatever, but hitched the narrative to established events. That is certainly not the case here. The only historical account of these people and events is in the Bible, and Diamant chooses to change that history to suit her narrative purposes. Dinah is not raped, as reported in Genesis, but falls in love and willingly has sex. Her father Jacob does not work for seven years to win his first love, Rachel, but for seven months. (This is a famous biblical love story, if you not familiar with it.) And so on--there are many departures from the source history.
And these are not "God's women" at all. They are portrayed as having a kind of Moon Goddess, new-age-sounding religion which includes a very graphically described piercing of the hymen in a coming-of-age ritual. According to this novel, the women do not subscribe at all to Jacob's monotheistic beliefs. Which makes no sense--how do the children learn to follow the one god?
And the men--almost all portrayed in a very derogatory light--are variously involved in bestiality, incest, self-pleasuring in public view, and so forth.
And the writing, which is terrible. Diamant constantly just tells about events rather then portraying them. It's like the biblical account in that way, with its "And it came to pass." Or as when a child tells you the plot of a movie and says, "and then," over and over, just hitting the high points. At no time did I forget I was reading a novel and not living the narrative, and I am a most susceptible reader for any writer even remotely capable of creating a fictive universe.
So I say, to the few potential readers who might still not have read this, don't bother.