In every reader's life there is a book - perhaps two or three - but rarely more than half a dozen, that forever alter the experience of reading a novel. Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers was the third novel in my life to do just that.
Note: Just in case you are wondering, Wurthering Heights by Emily Bronte was the first, and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was the second.Through its pages I felt wonder, pride, and such an intense sorrow that I even shed a few tears (which makes The Dovekeepers only the second novel to have made me cry...Didion's Magical Thinking was the first).
Nearly two thousand years ago, 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 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 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.
Books are like food in the sense that everyone has slightly different taste buds. So, while I found The Dovekeepers to be an enormously rewarding and engaging novel, I don't expect my review to convince everyone that Hoffman's novel is a "must-read". Obviously, I am not a professional book critic. My review will not be particularly academic or over-analytical. Instead, my review is based off of the fact that I read for enjoyment - and sometimes to learn a thing or two - and in regards to that criteria, The Dovekeepers was outright phenomenal!
I am not a huge history buff, nor do I particularly enjoy reading historical books, but I did learn tid-bits about the battle at Masada in college, and I always had a vague curiosity about what really happened. Obviously, Hoffman's telling isn't necessarily the "real story," but while it might not be 100% real, it is most certainly compelling in the most beautiful of ways.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Hoffman's "creative path into Masada is from the ground up: not through its generals and warriors, but through its mother, daughters, and wives." (Source) While the story unfolds through the voices of four distinct narrators, I found myself being entranced by Yael (the first of them), only to be further entranced by Revka (the second), and then Aziza (the third), and finally Shirah (the fourth). By the end of the novel, the four, distinct, narrative voices blended together in a single voice saying: "Let my burden be your burden, and yours be mine." (Source)
The Dovekeepers is not for the frail of heart, or the reader that only enjoys a lighthearted tale. It is beautifully raw and incredibly emotional (at least for me) to read. Reading it is an exercise in dichotomy, for it left me feeling both heavy and light, depressed and hopeful.
In the end, it left me contemplating persecution.
As Jennifer Raymant - a goodreads reviewer - wrote, "the persectution of Jews over and over again just completely baffles me. They truly are one of the most formidable, strong, and resilient race the world has ever seen." After all, "we are all souls anyway, aren't we? Here to learn. Here to grow. Let us see each other as souls. Let us bounce around in the imperfection of our soul bodies, dancing in their pure light way, on this dense earth planet."
So what's my thesis?!
It's simple really:
The Dovekeepers is elegant.
It is graceful and intelligent.
It is haunting.
It is devastatingly tragic.
It is beautiful.
Have you ever read a book that made you cry? If so, which one was it...I might want to put it on my reading list!
Ally and Bo