It was the setting that roused my interest in The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. The novel is entrenched in the history of Masada, a mountain in the Judeaen desert in Israel. My familiarity with Masada is rooted in a personal visit taken while touring Israel. Hoffman’s story adds life and meaning to my trip as she weaves history with fiction in her enthralling tale of Flavius Josephus‘ historical account of Rome‘s attempt to conquer, brutalize, and enslave more than 900 Israeli rebels. Rather than surrender, these few elected the method of their execution. The Roman army ascended Masada to find all dead, except two women and five children.
Yael, The Assassin’s Daugher
These women, Masada women, tell the story of The Dovekeepers and life on the mountain before the destroyers arrive. Yael, The Assassin’s Daughter, is a woman of convincing strength and determination. Alone, she brings believability to the concept of women surviving this siege. Unloved by her father, Yael finds love in the arms of Ben Simon, also an assassin. Ben Simon never reaches Masada, yet Yael carries her love for him her whole life.
Revka, The Baker’s Wife
Revka, The Baker’s Wife, is resolute about protecting her grandsons. Traumatized by the brutality that descends upon their desert campsite, the twin boys stop speaking. Revka’s son-in-law turns into a fierce warrior for Masada’s army in order to avenge his wife’s death. Revka, a murderer of sorts, remains stalwart despite the heavy burden of grief inflicted upon her as a direct result of Rome’s actions.
Aziza, The Warrior’s Beloved
Aziza, The Warrior’s Beloved, is a warrior in her own right. Trained by her step-father, Aziza’s burning desire is to use her skills to fight for Masada’s safety. She is an expert with bow and arrow. Four warriors, one enslaved by the Jews on Masada, influence the direction of Aziza’s life and her role in the war with Rome. Of the four, her soul mate is the least likely to love her for the woman she becomes.
Shirah, The Witch of Moab
Shirah, The Witch of Moab, is possibly the weakest of the four main characters. Her residential popularity is due to her magical powers. She has a spell or a potion for any plague or situation imaginable. Yet, there is no cure for her own distorted view of motherly love or the immobilizing grip of fear she endures when she thinks of Channa, wife of Shirah’s lover.
What We Like
Hoffman perfects style and characterization in this book. She takes the reader to this mountain of hope by way of life threatening deserts. The heroines are strong, resourceful, and devoted. The Dovekeepers doesn’t try to rewrite history. It just tries to clarify it by offering one author’s perspective, after years of research, about what happened. Hoffman’s hard work paid off.
This is the first book I’ve read by Hoffman. Not a can’t-put-it-down type story, it’s more like a can’t-wait-to-read-more-tomorrow. In the meantime, Masada, Israel, and the characters of The Dovekeepers burrow deep in the heart leaving a never-to-be-forgotten historical fact. Out of over 900 souls, two women and five children survived.