A tale inspired by the tragic first-century massacre of hundreds of Jewish people at Masada presents the stories of a hated daughter, a baker's wife, a girl disguised as a warrior, and a medicine woman who keep doves and secrets while Roman soldiers draw near.
Those familiar with Hoffman's work will recognize her style, albeit writ large: the book has multiple narrators of various ages and experiences, beset by various challenges. The first difference here, though, is that each voice tells a single large chunk of the story, rather than her more usual practice of cycling between the voices regularly, letting no voice ever really attain full control of the story. In The Dovekeepers, this becomes a problem. While the story covers so much ground and material that jumping between the voices would likely be both jarring and overwhelming for a reader, particularly when the voices aren't always known to one another, the practice of giving each voice a single continuous chunk of the narrative means that readers repeatedly fall into a single voice and get interested in that trajectory, only to be yanked away to another character's genesis and journey. For me, personally, this meant that I had to continually re-enter the novel, and continually gain back an interest that was in full swing until the sudden switch. In the end, I'm not sure the work could have been successfully written any other way and still remain in first person...but then, I also think it might have been the primary fault in the novel, for this reader at least.
Stylistically, the scope also became problematic. The story that Hoffman relates in the acknowledgements, and the history behind the novel, is both loaded and far-reaching. Simply, I have to think that the novel just attempted to cover too much ground, and that what's written/attempted here might have been better suited to a full series of works.
In the end, I'm glad to have read this work, and Alice Hoffman's writing is so gorgeous, as always, that I was never really tempted to forego finishing the book. At the same time, it didn't hold me in the way that her novels usually do, and I didn't feel the same attachment to any character--let alone all of them--as I've come to expect from her narratives. I appreciate the story, and the narrative, and the history, and the incredible amount of research which must have gone into this work. And, I can easily see why critics have been calling this her masterpiece. Still, it is so unlike her other work, and I can only finish my experience with the work by saying that I'm glad to have read it, and gone on the journey, even though I likely won't return. Still, for any reader of Hoffman, or any reader interested in related ancient history, this is absolutely worth looking into, albeit with the acknowledgement that it is not a particularly easy or fast read.
story of some of the women who were there. Women who had come together to be
the Dove keepers. To care for the animals who were kept to provide eggs and fertilizer
for the crops raised within the walls, and to be spread around
gave sustenance to all who lived there in one way or another.
Those who kept the Dover were Shirah and her daughters Aziza and Nahara. Shirah
had been born in Alexandria and was educated not only in reading and the knowledge
of languages, but of magic as had been her own mother. Her story, and that of the
birth of her daughters alone, is worth the price of this book.
There is Revka, a woman left to raise her two young grandsons, after the world
as they knew it was taken from them. To say that things were never to be the same
for them is an understatement of vast proportion. Again, their story alone deserves a book.
Yael was born of a woman who no longer had breath in her body and that moment of her birth
was to affect each choice she made and all the days of her life.
These women worked together to care for the doves who were the basis of life
or those who lived on the mountain. Who can say how it was that these women
were brought together, and how it was that they were perhaps the strongest of
all. They carried within them their own secrets, and in the end, it fell to some of them
to carry and then share the story of what happened when the Romans came finally to Masada
and scaled the mountain. Stronger than the warriors, the leaders and in the end, the conquerors.
The stories that were left behind that historic event are the basis of this
glorious novel. They say that there were seven who lived. Seven who survived
months of siege and then attack by the Romans of their people. The Jews who had already
torn from their homelands, and found refuge together on this great mountain. Seven
who refused to die either at the hands of the Romans or of their own people, and
who found a way to live.
One thing I’ve noticed recently is the variety of historical time periods that books are based on, that are being released. This was the first of these books
Told through the perspective of different women, all of whom are connected through the doves they are keeping, it’s an amazing look at the times and customs of the Jews while they were out wandering in the desert, attempting to escape the Romans.
Based on a true story, this is a book that will have the history lover in you cheering with anticipation and love for the story, and the skill of the person writing it.
And so I DID read Alice Hoffman and I liked Alice Hoffman.
"Dovekeepers" orbits around the real life events of the early 70s A.D. in ancient Judea. Rome was large and in charge and in the midst of shattering a Judean rebellion (seen commemorated in the famous Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum only a few hundred yards from the Colosseum in Italy). Several hundred Jews fled Jerusalem to the desert near the Dead Sea and moved into the former mountain fortress of King Herod at Masada. While the proud Jewish rebels held off a Roman legion for several years, Rome ultimately prevailed and all but two women and five children killed themselves rather than allow themselves to be overrun.
Hoffman's novel follows the lives of four women who all find themselves on Masada. Each woman has a dedicated 100-150 pages that weave in and out of each other’s stories with the collective whole building a comprehensive picture of their mutual plight. The stories connect the women together in ways that are obvious and follow the primary arc of the novel, but also in ways that are surprising and poignantly fulfilling. The connections build and develop on many levels: physically, emotionally, and symbolically.
The book is full of characters who are broken and hurt; affected by some deep trauma catalyzed by the Roman attacks on Jerusalem; driving each, by their own will or otherwise, to the fortress in the desert. One of Hoffman’s women is Yael, a deeply fractured and self actualizing individual who sums up the disparate journeys that brought the women to Masada: "We came like doves across the desert. In a time when there was nothing but death, we were grateful for anything, and most grateful of all when we awoke to another day."
You'll feel the weight of each character’s pain and sorrow increase as the novel progresses. There are few happy endings. Hoffman's themes cover the gamut from fate and destiny, to religion and love, and the depths of devotion.
Faith is a thread that runs throughout Hoffman's carefully woven tapestry. It's not just a religious entity, but something that binds individuals, family units, as well as the entire rebel community. In Revka, Hoffman ponders the rebel Jews: "If we lost our faith, we would become like the clouds that swell across the western sky when the wind pushes them into the desert promising rain but empty inside." It's through Revka also that Hoffman finally (about half-way through he book) provides a heart-wrenchingly warm and genuinely surprising treat at the end of her particular novella. For the first time the furrow on my brow melted into a smile on my face (note: it didn’t last very long).
Hoffman's Judean world is one of religion and tradition, of myth and magic: a world where everything in it has significance...symbolic or real. Some vignettes read almost as something out of a fantasy novel, but there's no melodrama to their weight.
In looking for a good way to summarize the books' tone, I found a couple of strong quotes. This first comes from Shirah, ‘The Witch of Moab’: "Being human means losing everything we love best in the world. But would you ask to be anything else?" This second is from Revka: "...our waking life is formed by our sorrow. " In each character is anchored a heavy weight.
In this misogynistic society, few men come across in a truly positive light. Though Hoffman writes very sparingly, in her few words, she's able to expresses a multiplicity of ideas and thoughts. Characters are never solely what they seem to be and there is very little that is purely black or white. Hoffman’s world is filled with shades of gray.
This book is going to resonate strongly for a lot of readers. It may be a bit polarizing because of its very serious nature. But as a first time reader of Hoffman, and a male, I feel fuller for having read this novel. I highly recommend it.
I received this book through the Amazon Vine program.
Set in 70 CE, we follow the path of four bold, fascinating and resourceful women, leading up towards the events of the horrific Masada massacre. Masada was a stronghold situated on a mountain and the last refuge for the Jewish zealots, where they tried to maintain their freedom and to withstand the slaughter and the power of the Roman army. However, after a long siege these rebels committed mass suicide, rather than surrender to the Romans. According to the historian, Josephus, two women and five children survived these horrendous events and were able to tell their tale.
Here, we meet Yael, the lioness, born out of the body of her dead mother, with a father who never forgave her for the death of her mother. Revka, a village baker’s wife, and revenging mother, who had to watch her daughter being brutally violated and murdered by Roman soldiers. Aziza, the girl-warrior, raised by her mother as a boy to protect her, and an excellent rider and brilliant warrior. Shirah, the Witch of Moab, mother to Aziza, a wise-woman trained in ancient magic and a healer.
The story is told from the perspective of these four women each telling the tale of their own life, the events prior and during their time in Masada. We follow, told through their eyes, their journeys through the desert to reach the stronghold, in a last attempt to build a new life for themselves and their loved ones. All of them are heartbroken and burdened by the weight of their traumatized past and their secrets. Their four lives intersect during their time in Masada and the desperate days of the siege, all of them working together as the dovekeepers. Here, we can watch how they manage to rise from their past, and their secrets, to discover friendship, renewed faith, and love in the midst of these horrible events. Each of these women find strength, through their friendship, they did not realize they had.
The book is set in Masada in 70 C.E. Four women are brought together as they face the Romans who want to destroy the Jews. The four women include: Yael, Revka,
Yael - her mother died in childbirth and her father the assassin has never recovered.
Reka - the bakers wife whose daughter died a terrible death at the hands of the Romans. Revka is raising her grandson's who cannot speak after witnessing the events.
Aziza - a warrior daughter who was raised as a son
Shirah - trained in medicine and magical powers.
At the end of the seige, only one woman and some children survived and lived to tell the tale.
I wanted to like this novel. I really did. And it had some wonderful segments. But the narrators couldn't make up their minds. "My sister belonged to me for eternity." "My sister did not belong to me." "My sister knew that she was mine for all time." (these are not direct quotes.) And they repeated themselves with no purpose I could identify. Yael's father treated her like a dog. She tells us this several times. I suppose this could be intended to give the reader a sense of the development of the character's relationships with important family members, but it just didn't work.
My real complaint, though, is that the four women narrator's voices were not distinct. As a result, their narratives failed to develop a sense of the character, and consequently a sub-plot, separate from the others. Hoffman intentionally uses proper names sparingly which effectively creates a rich and accurate sense of time, place, and culture, but Alice Hoffman is not Hilary Mantel. Her characters need more help to become real.
Still, some scenes pulled me in, engrossing me in the struggle for survival in a remarkably harsh climate, the horrid violence of the wars, the magic and bloodshed and beauty of the time and place. If you're a Hoffman fan, this might be right up your alley.
Much of the writing in this book is
My major complaint is that the story was too drawn out and moved too slowly for me. Perhaps that is a fault with this reader rather than with the author's story. Still, I thought the assassin's daughter was never going to make it across that dang desert, and that was just the beginning. The book, at ~500 pages, just was too long for the story it was telling. I don't doubt, though, that there will be a great number of readers who love this book.
I thank the publisher for giving me an advance reader's edition of this book.
We follow the stories of Yael, the daughter of an assassin,who goes to Masada with her father after an ardourous journey through the desert; Revka, a baker's wife who goes with her grandsons and son-in-law to Masada after seeing her daughter murdered by Roman soldiers; Aziza, daughter of Shirah, who was raised as a boy and is an excellent warrior, and her mother Shirah, a witch from Alexandria. Their lives are intertwined even before they all became dovekeepers in Masada as they live out their fates together.
The author spent 5 years researching the history behind this story and visited Masada and it shows in her writing. Totally uber-fantastic!
This is the first book that I have read by Alice Hoffman and it certainly won't be the last.
Edits, which one guesses would have been extremely wrenching for the author, could make this book into a lean and intriguing story worthy of praise. But as it stands, this book is painful and not worth the time involved to get through the meandering, overwritten prose and the inane characters.
The women each come to the fortress by
The story is told in parts, from the point of view of each in turn and as the subsequent women tell their stories, you still get continuation on what happens to the others. We hear about their pasts, how they came to the current point in the story, what happened to them and how they've managed to survive so far. All of the women, when they arrive in Masada, end up tending to a large flock of doves, hence the title, nurturing them, caring for them as they do their own families. The doves help the tribe survive and the women keep the doves alive.
I found the story really interesting, very moving and engaging. It's well written and though it was a bit slow at the very start, very quickly pulled me in. It gives a very good view on what Jewish women's lives were like in 73 C.E. and what kinds of conditions they had to live in under the stress of war.
Four women make their way to the fortress and are drawn together as caretakers to the doves that provide meat, eggs and fertilizer for the community. The story was slow to get started, perhaps because she begins with Yael's story, the hardest to read. Yael's mother died at her birth and her father blames her, so she grows up unloved and unwanted. When the Jews are expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans, her father allows her to follow him, and they wander in the wilderness for months until they're found by a warrior from Masada. But Yael finds her strengths as her father loses his.
At Masada she meets Revka, whose grandsons are mute and whose scholar son-in-law is lost to vengeance, and Shirah, the witch of Moab, and her daughter Aziza. Their stories unfold slowly as the Romans' net tightens around Masada, until they're all forced to make a terrible choice.
Without a doubt, this is the best book I've read so far this year.
* I wish I had the words to express how wonderful this book is. I will be honest if Simon and Schuster hadn't sent it to me for review, I probably wouldn't have picked it up and let me tell you that would have been a shame. This book is haunting and sad but yet so full of hope and of
* Beautiful raw and honest story and just so god-damned emotional to read
* Exceptionally real and strong female characters
* History written so it comes alive and you learn so much without feeling like you are getting a history lesson
* The faults/flaws of the characters are not hidden and you see how they change and grow over the course of the story
* Emotionally raw by the end of the story and had to go hug my children before I could go to bed
* Obviously thoroughly researched and you feel the authors passion for the subject matter as it never comes across as dull
* I would be shocked if this doesn't get made into a movie or a mini series
* Further Reading at the end of the book is appreciated for those like me who will want to find out more of the history
* Very wise and thought provoking
* A wonderful book for various discussions about faith, forgiveness, compassion, woman's rights etc
* Why are you still reading my review -- get thee to a book store now and buy it -- hello what are you waiting for
The Not so Good Stuff
* Could have been perfect with a some stronger editing. There is some obvious repetition that should have been caught and it would have made it a truly brilliant novel.
* I was forced to stay up till a 1am to finish this and the last 15 pages or so I could barely read with the tears falling down. Alice you owe me some coffee and Kleenex & an apology to my kids for mommy being cranky from lack of sleep
"Try as she might to keep him a child, Shirah's son was already straining to be a man. She called out cautions, but Adir hurried to the garrison, determined to be among the men he admired. When the wind is so strong that we women know we will choke on the rising dust if we fail to tie our scarves across our faces, boys will always ignore the elements and race through storm clouds, dreaming of glory. Even a witch can't stop her son from becoming a warrior. There is no spell great enough for that."
"It was sometimes easier to be with a stranger from whom nothing was expected and to whom nothing was granted in return."
"They embraced the feminine aspect of God, the Dwelling. the deep place where inspiration abided, for in the written words of God, compassion and knowledge were always female."
"The desire for Jerusalem was a fire that could not be quenched. There was a spark inside the holiest of holy places that made people want to possess it, and what men yearn for they often destroy."
What I Learned
* Man it really sucked to be a women in ancient times, we are so lucky in this day and age to be treated, for the most part, as the equals that we are (still so far to go)
* Now I really already know this, but lets just put this out again -- the persecution of Jews over and over again just completely baffles me. They truly are one of the most formidable, strong and resilient race the world has ever seen.
* Tons of fascinating information about 70-75 CE
Who should/shouldn't read
* Will be buying a copy for my niece, sister and sister in laws for Christmas because I don't want to lend them MY copy and risk the chance of one of them --- "misplacing it" LOL
* Those who enjoy a nice light read, would probably not want to pick one up. It is quite intense and detailed
* Thinking those of Roman descent might be a little put off
* A must have for public libraries
I received this from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review -- thank you for once again breaking me out of my comfort zone and introducing me to something so spectacular
Set on the plains of Masada, four women of varied backgrounds find
What started out as a personal look at history through the eyes of the women soon became bogged down with too much history. Yes, it was realistic. Yes, I did feel like I was present. But in this case I believe the writer's adage of "Show, Don't Tell" should have been more literally followed. For me there was not enough dialogue to move the story forward at a quicker pace. I felt the story was bogged down with weighty explanations of history. While I am a firm believer that history should be honored, I also believe that sometimes too much history can be a bad thing. After all, this is a work of fiction.
Having said that, I do honor the amount of research and preparation that went into this book. I'm sure the author lived the lives of her characters as she researched them. Well done on that score!
For my tastes, the book was drawn-out and tended to slow down in too many places. I found myself being distracted by outside forces too much. Not the kind of book I couldn't put down.
I look forward, however, to Ms. Hoffman's next offering.