Alice Hoffman | ISBN-10: 145161747X | ISBN-13: 978-1451617474 | 512 pages
“Dovekeepers” is the first book I’ve read of Alice Hoffmans’. In fact, one evening my wife looked at the book while I was reading in bed and said: “You’re reading Alice Hoffman? I’ve read Alice Hoffman. But you don’t read Alice Hoffman!”. And so I DID read Alice Hoffman and I liked Alice Hoffman. This is a very good book. It’s real deep and very weighty. “Dovekeepers” orbits around the real life events of the early 70s A.D. in ancient Judea. Rome was large and in charge and in the midst of shattering a Judean rebellion (seen commemorated in the famous Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum only a few hundred yards from the Colosseum in Italy). Several hundred Jews fled Jerusalem to the desert near the Dead Sea and moved into the former mountain fortress of King Herod at Masada. While the proud Jewish rebels held off a Roman legion for several years, Rome ultimately prevailed and all but two women and five children killed themselves rather than allow themselves to be overrun.
Hoffman’s novel follows the lives of four women who all find themselves on Masada. Each woman has a dedicated 100-150 pages that weave in and out of each other’s stories with the collective whole building a comprehensive picture of their mutual plight. The stories connect the women together in ways that are obvious and follow the primary arc of the novel, but also in ways that are surprising and poignantly fulfilling. The connections build and develop on many levels: physically, emotionally, and symbolically. The book is full of characters who are broken and hurt; affected by some deep trauma catalyzed by the Roman attacks on Jerusalem; driving each, by their own will or otherwise, to the fortress in the desert. One of Hoffman’s women is Yael, a deeply fractured and self actualizing individual who sums up the disparate journeys that brought the women to Masada: “We came like doves across the desert. In a time when there was nothing but death, we were grateful for anything, and most grateful of all when we awoke to another day.” You’ll feel the weight of each character’s pain and sorrow increase as the novel progresses. There are few happy endings. Hoffman’s themes cover the gamut from fate and destiny, to religion and love, and the depths of devotion.