An Annotated Story of Dinah

Reviewing Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent

One of my favorite weekend activities is finding garage sales, especially ones advertising books.  It is simply amazing how many wonderful books one can acquire for just a dollar or two each by taking a few minutes to select them from boxes, shelves, and mats in people’s driveways.  There have been a few garage sales over the years that dramatically filled my shelves; one particular estate sale comes to mind in which Ashley and I could barely carry the boxes full of fifty-cent-each books.

Then, there are the other garage sales.

I think everyone who attends garage sales at some time or another has found themselves in this position: you drive up to the sale, and you’re the only ones there.  The offerings can be charitably described as “another man’s treasure,” but the eager owners are just so thrilled that you are there, and so eager that you find something you like.  It is at the same time awkward and sad, and as a buyer, I feel so much pressure to find something, anything, to buy, so we can move along while sparing the owners’ feelings.  Ashley and I have actually worked out a secret code for these situations, amounting to an S.O.S.;  if one of us starts whistling Tom’s Diner, it’s time to hit the road.

It was at just such a sale that I found Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent.  The garage sale ad had listed “lots of books,” which always piques my interest.  I understand that “lots” is not a particularly specific quantitative description, but it does put an idea in my head of boxes or shelves full of literature, with a few choice gems hiding, just waiting to be plucked out and added to my collection.  To this particular garage sale proprietor, “lots” meant four books.  Four.  We were there early, so it wasn’t that they had been sold already.  He literally had four books, and one of those was a decades-old school textbook.

As I always do when perusing any quantity, or lack thereof, of books, I started reading the back covers for a sense of whether the book would be interesting.  The Red Tent purported to be a different take on part of the bible story, fleshing out the story of Dinah, who is mentioned only briefly in the old testament’s “founding fathers” narrative (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc.).  Frankly, my first impression was not great, and I was preparing to put the book back, when the unmistakable whistled notes of Suzanne Vega’s only hit reached my ears.  I had two choices; pay a dollar for this book of questionable merit, or see the disappointed face of this homeowner as his only two prospects left empty-handed.

I’ve got to tell you, that was a very well-spent dollar.

The character of Dinah grows up in a world of women, which is represented by the red tent.  In biblical times, the red tent was where women gathered and lived during their monthly cycles, and when giving birth.  It was a place forbidden to men, and was at once a place of camaraderie, pain,  sisterhood, and storytelling.  The opening chapters narrate events that take place before Dinah is even born, but are described as the oral history she has been told about her family and its place in the world.

The time period of the novel starts with Jacob coming to Laban for a bride.  This is the famous biblical vignette in which he wants to marry Rachael, pays a bride price of a year’s labor, and then gets duped at the wedding and marries Leah instead.  The bible presents this as Laban’s trickery, but in The Red Tent it is the women driving the events, and a conspiracy among the women leads to this deception.

That device brings to mind The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  In both stories, the authors have taken a fairly well-known legend and have re-narrated it from the female perspective.  Not only are the women the main characters in each story, but the famous events that take place and have been traditionally ascribed to men are shown to be directed by the women.

Dinah’s life story begins with her birth.  She is the only daughter of Leah, and only surviving daughter of Jacob.  She grows up with the siblings who will later become the tribes of Israel.  Diamant richly weaves details about the everyday life of women into her story, and the result is both compelling and believable.

The major biblical event involving Dinah, the massacre of her new husband’s village by her angry brothers, leads to a break between her and her family.  She leaves for Egypt in the company of her mother-in-law, and becomes an accomplished midwife.  Much later, she is surprised to find that the new chief adviser to the pharaoh is none other than her brother, Joseph.  With him, she travels back to Canaan to visit her father on his deathbed, where she learns that her story was not forgotten.

The best part of this novel by far is the period of time before the massacre.  Diamant has worked backwards from the one tragedy we know about Dinah and has created a richly-textured biography that is full of pain, joy, loss, pride, accomplishment, and satisfaction.  The latter part of the story, while not bad, does include a few Dickensian coincidences that help the author advance the plot; this comes across as somewhat sloppy.  However, it does not diminish the overall merit of the novel.

It was a bargain at a dollar, and worth far more.


Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kick Them When They’re Down

Wherein I discuss some of the scams and traps that cheat struggling homeowners out of money, and can cost them their homes

(insert cliche about how bad the economy is; we all know it’s pretty rotten right now)

In fact, for many homeowners the economic troubles have given them a double-barreled problem; first, home values are sometimes half what they used to be, so the houses are underwater.  Second, with reduced income, they often cannot afford to make the payments to service those high-balance loans.

The result is that, in unprecedented numbers, people are losing their homes to foreclosures, forced short-sales, or deeds-in-lieu-of-foreclosure.

As an attorney primarily practicing bankruptcy law, I meet with people on an almost daily basis who are at the end of their rope with their mortgage lender.  The sad truth is that not only will many of them lose their homes, a great many of them should never have gotten the home loans to begin with, and wouldn’t have gotten them if they, or the lenders, knew what would happen to housing values.

Though it is very popular to express hope that the government, or the mortgage industry, will help people stave off foreclosure, in many cases there is simply no salvaging the loan.  If even a reasonable payment on the property would be more than half of the borrower’s income, it is in nobody’s interest to prevent foreclosure or a short sale.  Homeownership is a worthy goal, but not everyone can or should afford to be a homeowner.

In many states, including California, the typical foreclosure involves the filing of public-record documents, including notices of default or of a pending trustee’s sale.  One side-effect of these public records is that cottage industries of “foreclosure prevention” services have cropped up around the country, and in many cases, they are scamming desperate people out of money at the precise time they need their money the most.

One of the most pervasive scams involves help with loan modifications.  In the past, I have worked with clients trying to get modifications, and have even handled some professionally.  Here’s what I learned through that experience: no attorney, and certainly no non-attorney, can consistently achieve better results than the borrower would achieve on their own.  There is no secret handshake that allows a loan to be modified; the bank requests documents, you provide documents, they either approve or deny relief.  Yes, the banks lose documents, and yes, they change their processes and give conflicting information.  They do the same thing to third-party modification companies.  Don’t confuse the bank’s ineptitude with your own inability to get the loan modified.

To be clear: if a modification can be achieved, you can attain one without help from anyone, especially anyone who wants to relieve you of several thousand dollars along the way.

Worse than the modification services, however, are the out-and-out scams.  These include forensic loan audits and ownership transfers.  In a forensic loan audit, the company charges the homeowner a hefty fee to review loan origination documents, and then tells the borrower about all sorts of heinous omissions and mistakes made by their lender.  This, they claim, will give the borrower leverage to get a loan modification, or even to sue the lender!  In the worst of these scams, the initial payment will only cover the audit itself, and then the company will ask for continued costs, such as $1,000 per month, in order to hire an attorney to sue the lender.  They tell the homeowner that this will indefinitely delay foreclosure.

Back when he was the state’s attorney general, Governor Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit against some of the largest forensic loan audit companies, accusing them of scamming millions of dollars from homeowners by promising things they could not deliver.  Make no mistake- these do not work.  The promises boil down to either a free house, which you will not get, or an indefinite delay in your foreclosure, which they cannot deliver.  The idea that the bank will be somehow forced to modify to avoid a lawsuit is simply not true.  Companies that promise to add you to a class action lawsuit against your lender are engaging in a similar type of scam, with big investments by the homeowner, big promises, and little if any chance of success.

The final scams involve deeding the property to third parties, often third parties involved in bankruptcy, to take advantage of bankruptcy protections and prevent foreclosure.   Unlike the other scams, which at their worst can cost money and emotional distress, this arrangement is certainly fraudulent, and possibly criminal.  You should never, under any circumstances, sign off on a transfer of ownership to a distressed property, unless it is agreed to by your lender.

I’m sure in a future post I’ll be discussing when and how bankruptcy can help preserve home ownership.  After all, it’s my profession, and I love what I do.  My purpose in posting this today is to warn people against the “too good to be true” scams that are preying on people who are desperate to keep their homes.  Before you spend a dime on foreclosure prevention, you should research the company, get a second opinion, and figure out exactly what your goal is, and what you realistically hope to achieve.  If it sounds too good to be true, (finish cliche here).

Published in: on August 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm  Leave a Comment