REVIEW: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Historical Fiction, Pages: 504, Level: Easy

Book Description from Goodreads:

“Blends mythology, magic, archaeology and women. Traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.

Four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father 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 twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The four lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets- about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.”

I reviewed this before I started this blog, so it may not be up to the level of other reviews. I am sure I will read it again. When I do, I will update this review. In the meantime, here is my initial review along with some comments I made after reading some of the negative reviews.

Phenomenal! I had my doubts but saw so many wonderful reviews, that I finally checked it out from the library. It is historical fiction and takes place in the first century AD. The Roman Legion is destroying Jewish settlements everywhere, killing many and enslaving others. Roughly nine hundred Jews made a stand at Masada. This is the story of 4 women who took refuge there- an assassin’s daughter, a baker’s widow, a young female warrior and a woman who practices magic against Jewish law. They meet while working in the dovecotes.

The book is separated into four parts, each told by a different character. I loved the first woman so much that I was disappointed when her part ended. But the stories get better and better. Each part has two purposes- to tell a woman’s history, explaining the chain of events that brought her to Masada, and to continue the linear story about the Legion’s attack on Masada.

There is no graphic sex in the book. There is a lot of violence and one rape scene. It was interesting to hear about all the Jewish traditions and different factions; I will look some of them up to check their accuracy. It was also heartbreaking how women were treated; I will also check that out as well.

The Dovekeepers is definitely a chick book. The menfolk probably won’t like it but you might win some points by recommending it to your wife. There are intriguing stories of survival, perseverance, love, revenge, loss, faith and so much more throughout the book, but the book is definitely a downer. You will most likely not leave with much of a warm fuzzy feeling. There were parts when I was outraged and disgusted. At others, my heart ached. But you will find uplifting stories as well. The number of uplifting stories will depend on your own personality. The only way I can explain is that sometimes a story will provoke sadness while at the same time, strike a different reader as tragic beauty, although the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In my opinion, a book that evokes that kind of response is definitely a must read.

Comments on negative reviews…

I have read some of the negative comments. One about not adequately developing the characters. I disagree. I felt I knew the characters personally and felt a miniscule part of their emotional pain and suffering. We’re talking about a significant difference in culture due to time, 2000 thousand year difference, and religious practices. Yet I still sympathized with them and even identified with aspects of them. In my opinion, that is some good writing.

As far as the lack of dedicating herself to the topic of magic- I don’t think that was the intent of the author. There are a few magical scenes, but I think it was meant as more of those crazy exaggerations that grandma used to tell rather than trying to put in a plot relating to the supernatural. For example, there is a scene when one character makes it rain. Did she really make it rain? Of course not. The same character even says later she cannot make it rain. This was not meant to be a supernatural story.

And for someone who lives in the 21st century and enjoys the results of the feminist movement, it might be hard to understand women of the 1st century after being oppressed by their own family members for the simple fact that they were women. The inferiority eventually becomes internal and a simple fact of life that is never questioned. What makes these characters so strong is that while they act their part, they eventually come to realize and accept that they are just as strong, and sometimes even stronger, than men. It was uplifting.

Reviewed by Christina
June 5, 2012

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