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WeeRead: Review of The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

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Our book reviewer Jana shares her opinion of Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers.

When I began Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, I did not know what to expect. I was wary of immersing myself in the religion and politics of 70 C.E. and the synopsis led me to anticipate extreme violence and heartbreak. The novel delivered both in equal measure, but it also delivered characters so compelling I had a hard time putting the book down.

The novel is broken into four parts, each dedicated to the story of one woman. As the novel progresses, the four women become tangled together in this fictionalized account of a true historical event that took place in Masada during the fall of Jerusalem. Whether you’ve read the full histories of Josephus first, or just skimmed the synopsis on the back cover of this book, you know what to expect. There are 900 people in Masada, and only two women and five children survive. There will be blood.

The novel begins and ends with Yael, making her the touchstone of the story. The stories of Revka, Aziza, and finally, Shira, round out the drama by providing introductions and back-stories for all of the relevant secondary characters (mostly men). These four women are strong and determined, and face hardship that we cannot even conceive of today. They do a remarkable job of putting motherhood into perspective for a modern audience.

The entire novel is steeped in the prevailing religious doctrines of the era, and overlaid with mysticism and magic. It is graphic, bloody, raw, and hard to stomach at times. But as the women move from disaster to disaster on the path to, you guessed it, even more disaster, you can’t help
but follow them to the very end.

Jana is a college English instructor and librarian who is currently enjoying maternity leave with her handsome little man, Reid.

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