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The Dovekeepers: A Novel Hardcover – October 4, 2011
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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 soldier. 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.
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Alice Hoffman weaves fiction and fact in The Dovekeepers, a thrilling, passionate saga of four women who come together to tend the doves in Masada.
Hoffman's fiction is always compelling, but the history within The Dovekeepers makes this novel haunting.
The Boston Globe
- Publisher : Scribner; American First edition (October 4, 2011)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 145161747X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1451617474
- Item Weight : 1.35 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #350,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The Dovekeepers was the book selection for the month. I've never read Alice Hoffman before and with close to 600 pages, I feared I may not make it to the end. Boy, was I wrong. The Dovekeepers tells the story of nine hundred Jews living on Masada in the desert, under siege by the Romans. We see life in the mountain fortress through the eyes of four women all assigned to work in the dovecote. Each arrives at Masada from a different path. Each has a story, and a secret which eventually binds them all together. Their fight for survival often conflicts with a deep faith that governs their way of life.
Alice Hoffman has given us a poignant, beautiful and gripping novel. It has been meticulously researched and written. I learned so much about a piece of history that I knew little about and it touched me deeply. The language used to tell these women's stories is magical. How they are woven together is perfection. The Dovekeepers is not to be missed.
I received a warm welcome as the newcomer in a well established book club. The discussion was lively and made me think about events in the story in a different light, one that I wouldn't have thought of on my own. I read a wonderful book, one that I never would have chosen myself. And I made some new friends who share my love of books.
Whether you belong to a book club or not, please put The Dovekeepers on your list of must reads. A whole new world may be opened up that you never expected. I know it did for me in more ways than one.
The novel, told in sections, reveals the story of each heroine and her journey to Masada. The women share their tragedies, disappointments, and secrets as they care for the dovecotes, always aware of the loss of Jerusalem, of Roman brutality and of the catastrophe that awaits them all.
The characters become difficult to distinguish between, the novel drones with repetitive description, spells, magic, and prayers to Ashtoreth that Jews (Israelites), left behind centuries before.
Whether or not two women and five children escaped death at Masada by surrender is unclear however, known is that when the Romans entered the palace on Masada, all were dead, as the 960 Jews preferred death to slavery under the Romans.
The book is long, but once I got into it, it was hard to put down. It also came out that many of these women had intertwining lives that they didn't realize. Though I knew the story of Masada, I still was interested in how the author would tell the story and bring it to an end. Was not disappointed.....though towards the end I actually became very sad at so many having to come to such a fate.
”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.”
”We had been wandering for so long I forgot what it was like to live within walls or sleep through the night. In that time I lost all I might have possessed if Jerusalem had not fallen: a husband, a family, a future of my own. My girlhood disappeared in the desert. The person I’d once been vanished as I wrapped myself in white when the dust rose in clouds. We were nomads, leaving behind beds and belongings, rugs and brass pots. Now our house was the house of the desert, black at night, brutally white at noon.
“They say the truest beauty is in the harshest land and that God can be found there by those with open eyes.”
The stories of four different women eventually merge, as this begins in 70 CE, with the story of Yael – the daughter of Yosef bar Elhanan, an assassin associated with the Sicarii, a splinter group of the Jewish Zealots. Yael’s mother had died in giving birth to her, for which her father blames Yael. Still, when they flee Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, her father takes Yael with him, traveling with Jachim ben Simon, another assassin along with the members of his family.
”Everywhere I walked my fate walked with me, sewn to my feet with red thread. All that will ever be has already been written long before it happens.”
Revka is the wife of the Baker, and her story begins as her husband, a good and pious man, has left loaves in the oven and is off with the men while Revka is just beginning her day with her two grandsons, when their world is shattered.
”Blessed is He who spoke, and the world came into being. Just as creation began with words so, too, did our world come apart in silence. None of us spoke. The boys because they could not, my son-in-law because he would not, myself because there were no words worth speaking aloud. The world was broken, and there was only one road that remained, splayed open before us as if made of bones.”
”We had no choice but to go forward, as only emptiness was around us. The following day we did so. I had to leave that unmarked place, abandoning the last of my husband’s essence. I carried my loss as my burden; it weighed me down and made me slow. I could not keep peace with the tired donkeys who bleakly made their way. The boys ran back to me and grabbed my hands and urged me on. Because of them I continued, but God must have known it had crossed my mind to stay behind. I wanted to lie down beside the rocks and dream of the Baker, to call for him to come back to me, even if it meant giving up with world. Perhaps that was the sin I committed. I forgot that even the worst of lives is a treasure.”
Revka and Yael both arrive in Masada, a fortress set on a mountaintop. There they both come to work in the dovecote, collecting eggs and distributing the compost they gather. Among those in Masada are Shirah and her daughters, one of which is named Aziza, the other Nahara.
Aziza was a daughter cherished by her mother, and loved by a father figure that taught her how to protect herself, to be capable of fighting to defend herself, her sister and mother.
”But no matter how you might bow before others, my sister, the bond between us will last all eternity, until we meet again in a place where nothing can separate us, as it was on the night you were born, in your father’s tent, with my breath inside you and my life the thread that kept you in this world.”
The fourth story belongs to Shirah, where we learn of her youth as a beloved and privileged child, a daughter of a consort of the high priests, a woman who studies medicine, spells, and the powers of amulets and charms – a keshaphim, a woman tied to Shechinah, the feminine characteristic of God. A woman taught everything by her mother about this world, everything necessary to carrying into the World-to-Come. She knew the cure for a scorpion bite, that the “nectar of the spiky blue flower of the hyssop dabbed on the wrist would ward off evil, a woman who wore the tooth of a black dog around her neck for protection from wild beasts, reciting incantations when digging for the roots of henbane, a holy plant.
”Inside the locked box was a notebook of parchment upon which my mother had written the many secrets she had accumulated over the years. It was a recipe book for the human heart, for our people believe that all we know and all we have experience is contained there.”
”We were no different from the doves
We could not speak or cry, but when
no choice we discovered we could fly. If
want a reason, take this: We yearned
portion of the sky.”
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This is a very well described drama, and I enjoyed it.