Cannonball Read IV: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Dovekeepers is sweeping fictional account of four women during the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. culminating in the brutal siege of Masada in 73 C.E. While the timeline and framework of the story is grounded in historical fact, the context of each character’s life is richly imagined and embellished by Hoffman, and the result is a deeply moving and engaging read; both for the character’s development and the rich historical accounts.
The novel begins with the story of Yael, the assassin’s daughter, and her family’s pilgrimage to Masada. When Yael arrives at the great fortress, we are then introduced to the women we will soon know: Revka, the baker’s wife; Aziza, the warrior’s beloved; and finally Shirah, the witch of Moab. As each woman’s story unfolds the reader discovers who she was and how she has become the person she is. Hoffman switches the protagonist four times throughout the novel, thus each woman’s distinct voice is realized by the reader. This results in a truer understanding of the woman, but sometimes it occurs at the expense of other character’s development. Hoffman’s character development and storytelling is so robust that you beg to know more about each person you discover. Unfortunately, some of them you never get to know beyond the protagonist’s observations.
Hoffman does bring a stronger overarching theme to her tale: in the end we all fight to live. While we may suffer great tragedy, hardship, and loss at the hands of others, our survival will sometimes come at the expense of another’s suffering, “we are considered giants by some and ants to be stepped on by others.” It is a story worth reading; the kind of novel you will find yourself telling people about, and the kind of novel you may just read again to dig deeper and see if you can catch Hoffman’s rich details and foreshadowing the second time around.
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