An ambitious and mesmerizing novel from the bestselling author of Rules of Magic. The Dovekeepers is “striking….Hoffman grounds her expansive, intricately woven, and deepest new novel in biblical history, with a devotion and seriousness of purpose” (Entertainment Weekly).
Nearly two thousand years ago, 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 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 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.
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.
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Challenging and Rewarding
I love books like this and The Red Tent, that blend history with biblical stories told from the oft-overlooked women's perspective. While many of this genre are fairly easy reads, Alice Hoffman's style tends to be more literary than most. But that shouldn't be a deterrent from this fully realized story. In my case it meant I needed to slow down and read a bit more carefully in order to appreciate and savor the nuances of the tale.
Absolutely loved this book. I found myself thinking about the tragic lives of the characters throughout my day... Couldn't wait to get home to read more. Beautifully written, sad but empowering, truly one of the best books I have read in a very long time.