Best-selling author Anita Diamant ’75 returned to campus in April for the first time since she graduated.
“Things have changed a lot, not only in terms of the landscape, but also in terms of the energy and enthusiasm,” she said. “I’m very proud to be an alumna of Binghamton.”
Bat-Ami Bar On, professor of philosophy and women’s studies, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and chair of the Judaic Studies Department, interviewed Diamant on stage April 7, in the Osterhout Concert Theater. Their discussion centered on Diamant’s first novel, The Red Tent, as well as her latest book, Day After Night, a work of historical fiction that focuses on a detention camp run by the British in Palestine immediately after World War II.
Diamant, who is also an accomplished journalist and author of several books of non-fiction, said she wrote The Red Tent to give herself a “safe challenge.” She considered it a “knitting project,” something she did while also writing another book.
Bar On pointed out that the book, which retells the story of Dinah from the biblical book of Genesis, is actually quite daring. Diamant suggests that Dinah was not raped; rather, she fell in love with the prince who is usually understood to have been her attacker. The novel was a huge hit with book clubs around the world, but it also stirred criticism from some religious leaders.
“Getting the story from a character who’s off to the side always illuminates it in a whole different way,” Diamant said. “The fact that it’s a female character who had no voice also appealed to me, so I told this book in her voice.”
In fact, this interest in untold or under-told stories is one of the motivating forces for all of her fiction, Diamant said: “I trust that women’s stories are important, worthwhile and should be shared.”
Day After Night is set in the Atlit detention camp, and concludes with the famous 1945 nighttime raid in which about 200 detainees were freed. Many of those in the camp were Holocaust survivors. The breakout was planned by Yitzhak Rabin, then a young officer in the underground army of the Jewish community in Palestine.
“It’s a story of great courage, but it’s not a military victory. And that’s the way it’s understood. …It kicked off the active resistance against the British by the Jewish community,” Diamant said. “But I didn’t want to tell that story. I wanted to tell what it felt to be marching up the mountain in the dark behind somebody, not knowing where you were going − having to have blind faith, having lived through horrible things.”
Questions from the audience capped off the evening, with topics ranging from modern Judaism to life as a writer.
Shalom Kantor, KOACH-Hillel campus rabbi at Binghamton, praised Diamant’s non-fiction, noting her books have allowed many Jews to “own” their religion and to modernize notions about the faith. “How,” he asked Diamant, “do we make Judaism relevant for people on a college campus, for young people who have a hard time finding their place in the Jewish community?”
Diamant noted that people have said that synagogues and Judaism are dying for the past hundred years. “I’m not so worried,” she said. “I think there’s actually never been a more exciting and better time to be Jewish than in America right now. We’re living in a tremendous period of creativity. It’s a time for experimentation. … I think the kids are all right.”
Last Updated: 6/3/15