PITCHING MY TENT by Anita Diamant, author of THE RED TENT, is a collection of short and personal essays on family, friends and religion. Arranged by topic, the essays are, for the most part, light and enjoyable reading. Gathering many essays from her days as a columnist, PITCHING MY TENT reflects the things that are most important in the author's life, and they are things that will resonate with many readers.
Diamant begins by exploring "Love, Marriage, Baby Carriage." In this section she shares personal and general thoughts on marriage and partnership. These thoughts, like those in the rest of the collection, in many ways center not just on marriage, but on a life lived within a particular religious tradition. She shares how she and her husband celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and his conversion to Judaism. While this section of the book is actually dedicated to her husband, she does discuss her first marriage in frank emotional terms. From pet peeves to health issues, from mutual friends to the birth of their child, Diamant is candid about her marriage; the specifics she shares point to universals.
Next, Diamant dives into the topic of motherhood and her focus is on her daughter Emilia. She writes loving essays about parenthood as both "an adventure and an education." Two essays in this section stand out. The first is entitled "One" and discusses Diamant and her husband's decision to have only one child, despite the pressure to give Emilia siblings. The other is "The Mother's Bat Mitzvah Speech." This speech is a touching and tender tribute to her daughter on a very special occasion.
The third section in PITCHING MY TENT gathers essays about friends and friendship. These are short yet sweet.
"Time Zones" is the fourth section and one of the most interesting topics of the book. Here, Diamant examines sacred time and ordinary time by looking at the Jewish year and some of its holidays and commemorations. In essays about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah and Purim, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas, Diamant writes about being Jewish in a culture both Christian and secular and how she celebrates and understands Jewish (and non-Jewish) holidays. The essays are quite short but are full of insight and honesty. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, she writes about Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the idea of memory as a sacred trust. Both this essay and the brief one in tribute to her father are poignant and nicely written.
Diamant also has collected essays on middle age but she ends the book with more discussion about religion in her life. She writes that Judaism is her "journey" and her "home" and that it is an "essential lens" through which she understands herself and her place in the world. But these final essays are not as solemn as the introduction to the section would have you believe. Here, Diamant addresses serious issues such as congregation politics and the expectancy that all Jews read Hebrew --- but she does so with a light and witty touch.
PITCHING MY TENT is not exactly a book about religion or family in general but about Diamant's family and her religious life. Her essays are insightful if not challenging or academic. This collection is a great gift idea for fans of Diamant, those who enjoy easy yet interesting reading, and especially for Jewish mothers. A personal look at contemporary Jewish life, PITCHING MY TENT will not generate controversy or create the kind of following that THE RED TENT had, but it won't disappoint those who are looking to learn more about this author.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011
Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith