Over 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 solider. 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.
I have read a lot of novels about ancient Jerusalem during this era but I must begin this particular review with one word – WOW!! I was completely entranced with Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers which took place during the Roman siege during the first century abbreviated as C.E. which stands for Common Era. Common Era refers to the years counting forward from the birth of Jesus. C.E. has mostly replaced the old use of A.D. in an effort to appease non-theological references and non-believers. The use of Common Era is a more accepted practice now.
The Jewish war was written around 75 C.E. by a man named Flavius Josephus who was a Jewish historian.
Masada was a desert fortress situated at the top of a rock cliff at the western end of the Judean Desert and overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is the Hebrew word for fortress.
Hoffman delivers a breathtaking account of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. In 73 C.E. the Roman Governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the Tenth Legion. The Romans quickly built camps at the base of Masada in preparation to lay siege to it. They built massive walls and constructed a rampart, then built a huge ramp, moved the battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall of the fortress.
The story is told through the voices of four different women: Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah. Each of these women had secrets about where they came from, who they are, who their fathers were, and who they love. Each of the women’s stories bound them together throughout the novel emotionally and symbolically. The change in each woman’s story flowed effortlessly and leant to the dynamic retelling of this sad and tragic period in history.
The dramatic end to this story will rip your heart out and leave tear-stains on your pages as you turn them. The title The Dovekeepers has a symbolic meaning throughout the story.
I’ve read a lot of Hoffman’s work and I believe this to be her very best. I believe this will become a classic in the future and a novel that will be talked about in book groups, people’s living rooms, in the news and will be a bestseller. I for sure will be touting the merits of this book to anyone and everyone who will listen. Kudos to you Ms. Hoffman!