Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: 'The Dovekeepers' by Alice Hoffmann

TheDovekeepers 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.
(Amazon description)

I love reading books where I feel like I’ve learned something.  I knew next to nothing about the Masada prior to reading this book, but I love history, especially ancient history.  Alice Hoffman wraps her fictional story of dovekeepers with threads of true-life facts and mystical spiritualism.  The result was beautiful and fascinating novel. 

The plot revolves around four women.  All are very different, coming from unique backgrounds, all damaged in their own ways, but somehow, they each found themselves shoveling dove droppings to be used as fertilizer in the compound’s fields and orchards.  At first, King Herod’s former palace feels like a sanctuary, filled with abundant food, water and resources, the thick walls and rugged natural terrain providing formidable protections against the Romans.  But with a thousand people living inside the walls and a year of drought, the crops begin to die, the cisterns start to run dry and the people begin to starve.  These women are survivors though.  They band together in support for each other.   

This book is heavy on character development, allowing the reader to follow the women as they are shaped by their trials.  They are so real, and the writing style is so intimate, it was easy for get lost in their story forget it was fiction.  Adding to the realism are the vivid descriptions of the land and the medicinal properties of plants. 

In typical Hoffmann fashion, there is a healthy dose of the mystical laced throughout the story.  Dreams and symbols and magic herbs...it adds an element of beauty to the story that elevates it beyond a purely historical novel.  

Overall, I give The Dovekeepers...
Plot - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Character Development - 5 bookmarks
Historical Elements - 4 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Molly Quinn (Yael), Embeth Davidtz (Shirah), Hili Yalon (Aziza), Bonnie Bedelia (Revka)


  1. This is on my "to read" list.

  2. “The Dovekeepers” is nothing short of spellbinding, empowering and uplifting. This is one you will want to keep on your shelf to re-read. What a talent this author has in her choice of words to bring these amazing strong female characters alive and the attention to detail that makes the storyline so real and meaningful. This is a historical novel but a modern day theme that will reach into your spirit.

  3. I love Alice Hoffman books, so bought this one without a second thought. This book is very long and started out quite slowly. I was beginning to be disappointed but am someone who needs to complete a book even if I do not like it, so kept reading and was glad that I did. I know the story from the Bible but Hoffman put a somewhat different slant on the characters and in typical Alice Hoffman style, did not disappoint. I highly recommend this book.