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More About The Dovekeepers by Alice HoffmanOverviewOver five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman's most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel. In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael's mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker's wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior's daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets--about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman's masterpiece.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-06-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Almost too dense to bear, Hoffman's 23rd novel is brimming with doom, based on the story of the mass suicide of Jewish Zealots at Masada as recorded by the historian Josephus. Set in the first century, the blood-soaked saga unfolds from the perspectives of four courageous Jewish women whose lives converge in the dovecotes of the rebel desert stronghold. Yael is an assassin's daughter who flees Jerusalem as it falls to the Romans, arriving pregnant with the child of her father's married colleague. Revka, her husband murdered by the Romans, comes with her two grandsons, rendered mute after witnessing their mother's disembowelment by Roman soldiers. Shirah, from Alexandria, possibly a witch, brings her beautiful daughter Aziza, who having learned the ways of men among the tribesmen of Moab, uses her warrior's skills to fight in this last stand against the Roman legions. Suspicious of one another early on, the women, each with her own secrets and talents, powerful lovers and magical spells, soon develop a loyalty so fierce that they are willing to sacrifice everything for each other and for the children they are entrusted with. Hoffman (Here on Earth) can tell a tale and knows about creating compassionate characters, but the leaden archaic prose style she uses tells more than it shows. Massive descriptive paragraphs slow the action, until, by the end, the reader is simply worn out. (Oct.)BookPage Reviews
O ye daughters of Jerusalem
Herbs and potions, love charms and secrets, the complex intimacies between mothers and daughters: It’s clear from the outset of The Dovekeepers that we are firmly in Alice Hoffman territory. But instead of the safe suburbs of New England, we have been transported back to the first century at Masada, the mountain fortress south of Jerusalem where 900 Jews held out against the Romans before committing mass suicide rather than submit to foreign rule. For The Dovekeepers, Hoffman was inspired by a trip to Masada and research into the classical world, including the work of Josephus, the Roman-Jewish historian who recorded that the only survivors of this tragedy were two women and five children.
Hoffman retells this ancient story through the voices of four unique women, each of whom arrived at Masada and worked in the dovecotes—caring for the birds, collecting eggs and gathering fertilizer. Red-haired Yael, the daughter of a master assassin, becomes pregnant with the child of her father’s colleague. Revka, the baker’s wife, lost her husband and daughter at the hands of Roman soldiers and is now determined to protect her motherless grandsons. Young Aziza was raised as a warrior; she wants nothing more than to fight alongside the men in this last stand against the Romans. Finally there’s Shirah, Aziza’s mother, who grew up as the beloved daughter of a consort to the high priests and is the lover of Masada’s charismatic leader. Initially suspicious of one another, the women gradually grow close, sharing their secrets and developing a fierce loyalty to one another.
An ambitious novel, dense with vivid description of daily life in ancient times, The Dovekeepers combines archaeology and research with Hoffman’s own interest in the often untold lives of women and her passion for stories of magic and the natural world. Even though the tale’s outcome is well known, the storytelling is bound to satisfy any reader.