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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

I did not want to read this book. While the plot description did intrigue me, the reviews I read were very mixed and gave me reason for pause. But it was assigned for book club and I'm very glad it was, because I enjoyed it very much. The fact that I had extremely low expectations may have helped, but best not to overanalyze that.

This book is the story of four women who work in the dovecote at the fort at Masada in 70 C.E., during the two years they are surviving, leading up to the attack by the Roman army. The ancient historian Josephus reported this battle, which was survived only by two women and five children. Alice Hoffman imagines what it could have been like, living under the threat after having escaped the Romans in their original homelands, forging a new life in strange circumstances, and ultimately having to fight again, a battle some lose and who are the survivors? Yael is ignored by her father who treats her like dirt, due to her mother's death during her childbirth. Revka was a happily married baker's wife and mother until Roman soldiers brutally murder her daughter. Aziza wants to be a warrior herself, and is an excellent archer. Shirah is Aziza's mother and is said to be a witch. All the women hold secrets, some of love, some of destiny, some of death. They bond together although they are quite different, and each helps the others in times of need.

This historical aspects were fascinating. I particularly liked the explanation of how vital the doves were to the fort, ensuring good crops on an otherwise rocky and barren mountain due to the fertilizing using their guano. Another thing I liked was that while all the woman did a great deal of work, none seemed to be proto-feminists, anachronistically arguing for women's rights and breaking down barriers, which happens a lot in historical novels. Back then, while duties were most certainly divided by the sexes, no one denied that women's work was work, and they worked pretty much all the time.

The book was overly long and too descriptive, but I managed to go with the flow and wasn't too impatient, but it was slow. It's also not a good beach read, being dense and with a large host of characters with unfamiliar names and long backstories to keep track of. But if you love historicals and like to get lost in a long saga, this book might just be perfect for you!

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

1 comment:

Jo said...

I think this is the only book by Alice Hoffman that I haven't read - and it's because the story just didn't sound that interesting. I feel kinda bad saying that, but it just doesn't sound like my kind of book. After reading your review, I think I'll continue to take a pass on this one. :)