The Dovekeepers — Alice Hoffman
As an avid Alice Hoffman fan, I was unsure of how I would receive the Dovekeepers as a piece of historical fiction. Hoffman has always written in such a way that magic and mysticism could drip from every word, and I wondered how her usual style would fit into this retelling of the Roman Empire’s seizure and slaughter of 900 Jews at Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert.
I shouldn’t have questioned her ability to take such a tragic event and weave beauty into the lives of the four fictional women she brought to life. This haunting tale begins with Yael, marked by flaming red hair, she is despised by her father who blames her for her mother’s death during childbirth. Her journey brings her to meet Revka, a bread maker’s wife who cares for her two mute grandsons; Aziza, a girl who was raised as a boy and yearns to return to what she knows; and Shirah a mother and practitioner of the forbidden art of keshaphim. The story follows the four women’s dealings with death, loss, love, lust and regret. As they live their lives, they are aware that their imminent destruction is just on the brink, and yet they manage to live with passion and hope.
The beauty of the Jewish practices and beliefs are expertly woven into the story, even as good men become monsters in the midst of war. I believe this is one of Hoffman’s greatest works to date. She manages to take a piece of history so embroiled in tragedy, and make it not absolutely depressing to read. Even though as I was reading I was fully aware that the ending would end in slaughter, I was hooked. I don’t like sad endings, and try to avoid reading them if I can. Life is sad enough and reading tends to be my escape. But she managed to take heartbreaking circumstances that indeed ended sadly, and insert a glimmer of hope through those that survived to tell the tale.
Get it: Yeah I know, I always tell you to get it, but this book deserves an A+.