Saturday, November 29, 2014

"The Dovekeepers" by Alice Hoffman

This is probably my favorite Alice Hoffman book that I've read so far because of its history and its setting, in addition to the title occupation. I'm a sucker for animals, and although birds may not be my favorite, doves are a powerful symbol in this book. (Even me, a person immune to symbolism, can catch on to that).

The Siege of Masada remains a tragic and ambiguous event, probably because it happened a little less than 2000 years ago. To write of it here would probably require spoiler warnings, so instead, I've provided the link to Wikipedia for those who wish to learn more.

The Plot: (As Seen on 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.'

What really strikes you when you read The Dovekeepers is the depth of rendering in the heroines' characters. Some may seem fragile at first, but when their stories are told, you get a sense of how strong they had to be. Women were treated as less than their male counterparts, although they worked just as hard to survive in harsh conditions.

You also get a sense of the old way of Jewish life- how holidays were celebrated and what traditions were held. If you wanted a blessing or a charm to give to your loved one, it was easier for women to go to non-religious magic practitioners and pay for it. Unless you had a good family (which none of the characters in this book technically do), you were easily cast aside and forgotten.

My favorite quote, which sums up the book nicely:

"Here is the riddle of love: Everything it gives to you, it takes away."

         ~Alice Hoffman, The Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers is one of my favorite stories by Alice Hoffman. She gives us more than a passing glimpse into the history behind the Siege of Masada, while still including her magical realism elements without them seeming out of place. If you want a book that can take you back in time to meet four incredibly strong women, consider this book for your next read.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for a beautiful book about the power of love.

Content: Ages 18+ for extreme violence, domestic abuse, and sexual content.

Page Count: 501 pages in my hardcover edition.

Note: This will be a miniseries on CBS, airing sometime in 2015. I can hardly wait!

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