I’m just going to dive right in here. This is one of my favourite books of all time. It will rivet your attention all the way through no matter whether your interests lie in this period of history, admiration of strong, independent women, incredibly descriptive, vivid prose, or how people survive when circumstances dictate that they must. Read the review; read the book. See if you agree. If you want to know more about the website or me, check out “About” in the header or “About Me” in the sidebar. Read on, MacDuff!
The Dovekeepers: A Novel
by Alice Hoffman
Published by Simon & Shuster
In the last days of Masada in 72 A.D., about 900 Jewish warriors and their families, under the leadership of Eleazar ben Ya’ir, hold the final stronghold of rebellion in Herod’s former clifftop palace. Having witnessed the cruel and destructive forces of the Roman legion throughout Judea, these warriors harry their enemies and are the final obstacle to Roman victory. Among these defiant revolutionaries are 4 women — keepers of the doves that provide eggs for eating and fertilizer for the orchards — women courageous in the face of their fears, out side the laws in their quest for survival, and ferocious in defending their last vestiges of dignity yet prepared to die rather than become slaves.
From different backgrounds, their stories unfold beginning with that of Yael, daughter of an assassin of the Sicarii. Disregarded for surviving childbirth when her mother did not, Yael was forced to leave Jerusalem with her father and a fellow assassin and his family. As the black smoke of the burning temple of Jerusalem chases them into the dessert Yael and her small company fight to survive as they cross the desert to seek her brother who also belongs to the Sicarii. Her eventual arrival at Masada brings her to the other three story tellers, women who, like herself, have lost everything including portions of their faith as they feel confused and abandoned by their God.
As each of these women recounts their compelling stories — Revka who fled her village after the death of her husband only to see her daughter raped and murdered in the desert; Aziza, daughter of the Witch of Alexandria, whose identity has changed 3 times over her young life; the witch herself, Shirah — war and suffering, drought and starvation — we see how religion and magic influence their choices and their relationships. As the Romans build a wide wall encircling the fortress, each woman follows her own fate to eventual death or rescue. The historian Josephus wrote that 2 women and 5 children survived to tell the story. Two of these women are dovekeepers.
This story is suspenseful, well researched, and well crafted. As someone long-captivated by the story of Masada (loved the movie with Peter O’Toole), this was the best possible book. Five years in the works, it is possibly the best of Hoffman’s 28 books. For a list of all her books, visit http://alicehoffman.com/ or order one of her books from The Dovekeepers: A Novel