Sunday, December 30, 2012
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
Published October 2011 by Scribner
Source: my copy purchased to read with the Omaha Bookworms
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 of Masada by the Romans. 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 was recommended by one of the Omaha Bookworms whose favorite books include Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. I've been wanting to read something by Hoffman for a long time and the cover of this is so beautiful, it wasn't difficult to convince me that this was a book I should make time for. And then I started reading it and those first 100 pages were tough. The book is separated into the stories of the four women, with Yael's story leading off. I didn't much care for her and 100 pages of traveling through the desert started to grate on me. But as the women's stories each unfold, more and more they incorporate each other's stories and move the overall story forward and I began to care more and more what happened to these women, women who I knew were doomed. Hoffman truly has created four distinct, unique women with incredible strength and amazing independence within the confines of their time.
The Dovekeepers is one of those books that make me want to learn more about a part of history I'm only passingly familiar with. I wanted to know more about the history of Masada and I always wonder how much of what I'm reading is fact and how much is fiction. Clearly, the stories of the individual people are fiction. Beyond that, though, I'm knocked out by Hoffman's research about the time, daily lives, and geography in which she's set her story and intrigued by the pull between the Jewish religion and the "old" ways where spells, demons, and curses played important roles.
Masada was built on a plateau by King Herod as a refuge in case of revolt between 37 and 31 BCE. on the eastern edge of the Judaean desert overlooking the Dead Sea. In 66 CE, a group of Jewish fighters, the Sicarii, overthrew the Roman forces stationed there. Eventually, as the Romans cracked down on Jerusalem and surrounding Jewish settlements, more and more people came to settle on the plateau, depleting the available resources. In 72 CE, Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva and the Roman legion laid siege to Masada, building a wall around Masada,a siege embankment, and a siege tower. According to history record, when the Romans finally breached the fortress walls, they found all but two of the settlers dead by mass suicide.