The Friends of the Princeton Public Library Book Club is reading The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. Join them on Thursday, September 13 at 4:00 pm to be part of the discussion.
In the year 70, Roman legions surrounded a Jewish settlement of 960 people who had taken refuge on a plateau on the edge of the Judean Desert. Driven from Jerusalem, the people of Masada had created a fortress they hoped would protect them from the Roman invaders. In the end, just two women and five children survived.
Alice Hoffman weaves fiction and fact in The Dovekeepers, a thrilling, passionate saga of four women who come together to tend the doves in Masada. Using the only written account of the siege, Hoffman salts
her fictional tale with archaeological artifacts found at Masada — a
swatch of tartan cloth; inscribed pottery shards; a pair of sandals — to
imagine how the seven might have survived. And how the end came
The dovekeepers have come to Masada by different paths: The redheaded Yael, shunned by her father, the assassin, endures a grueling trek through the desert and the loss of her lover. Revka, the baker’s wife, has witnessed her daughter’s rape and maiming by the Romans. Shirah, the beguiling Witch of Moab, holds the power to heal and curse with her magical potions, but cannot wrest her lover from his wife. Aziza, Shirah’s daughter, defies faith and convention to become the warrior she was meant to be.
Hoffman’s novels find magic in the mundane, and the mystical swirls through The Dovekeepers. Sudden rain, a circle of red hawks and a lion in the desert all hold hidden meaning. The doves represent sustenance and sacrifice; their bleached bones are studied for signs of the future.
Fans of Hoffman’s more modern women will find the dovekeepers surprisingly rebellious for their day. They take married lovers and flout religious law to protect the ones they love. Did I mention passion? Once smitten, their men cannot keep away.
Hoffman spent five years researching Masada, and early on, her desire to share that knowledge clutters the plot. But soon the book pulses toward its stunning climax. Hoffman’s fiction is always compelling, but the history within The Dovekeepers makes this novel haunting. (USA Today review, October 8, 2011)