Title: The Dovekeepers
Author: Alice Hoffman
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The year is 70 C.E. and the Romans are doing their best to suppress a widespread rebellion in Judea by their Jewish subjects. Four very different women come together as dovekeepers at the Jewish fortress of Masada. Yael is a young woman who has experienced much pain and heartbreak in her life, while Revka is a baker who has come to Masada with her grandchildren after witnessing her daughter’s death. Shirah and Aziza are mother and daughter, each with their own hopes and secrets. These four women experience their own tragedy and heartbreak while moving towards an unavoidable fate.
There is one very important fact of which I believe readers should be aware prior to picking up The Dovekeepers. Without it, the book might seem to wander aimlessly, without any real direction. But with it, the book becomes a suspenseful read, as readers become aware of how desperate the situation is about to become for these four women. However, some might consider this a spoiler (though I don’t), so please consider yourself warned and skip to the next paragraph if you aren’t interested in reading about it. If you are, the information is this: Masada was captured by the Romans in 70 C.E. Of all the Jews in the fortress, just two women and five children escaped the massacre. Now, while reading The Dovekeepers, the question becomes which of these four vibrant, dynamic women will escape, and which will meet their ends?
Of the four women in this ambitious novel, it was Yael who captured my heart from the beginning. Perhaps this is because she is the first narrator, or because the most pages are devoted to her story, but I believe it is because of how broken she is. She yearns for some peace, to be whole, but she knows she never will. She is haunted by all she has lost and by all she foresees she will lose before it is all over. The pain that comes through every word she says will brand itself on the reader’s heart. Yet, for all this raw pain, she has a beautiful soul and a fiery personality. Though all the women in this book have an interesting story to tell and are fully realized, three-dimensional characters, it is Yael who was the true masterpiece of this novel.
Alice Hoffman clearly undertook an inordinate amount of research to create the atmosphere of The Dovekeepers, and it pays off in every detail. Readers are completely immersed in this world; she brings the time period to life. The descriptions are amazing and intricate; the book transports the reader to another time and place. Her writing style is similarly lush. Even when she is talking about the most difficult of circumstances, the beauty of her prose shines through, making the burdens of this novel a little easier to bear.
Though The Dovekeepers does have some issues – namely that it does take awhile for the story to move forward – it’s still an absolutely breathtaking novel. The balance of Hoffman’s amazing prose with the history and incredibly realistic characters creates a wonderful reading experience. There is a lot of pain over the course of the book, but it never becomes too much for the reader. Hoffman is an incredible storyteller, and that shines through in every page of the book. I can’t describe how much this book moved me, nor how sorry I was to see it end. It’s an impressive accomplishment, and I look forward to seeing where Hoffman goes from here.