Review Blog

Nov 29 2011

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

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Simon and Schuster, 2011, 9780857205438.
Recommended. Summer 70CE. Jerusalem has fallen to the Romans. Rael, the young daughter of a Jewish assassin, flees across the desert with a small group of other Jews seeking the refuge of the fortress Masada. She arrives pregnant and is set to work in the dovecotes, along with Shirah, known as the Witch of Moab, her daughters and other refugee women. The doves  are kept as indispensable food, sources of fertilizer and as messengers. The women's lives are simple but rich with Judaic tradition and complicated by love intrigues. Others who have found shelter in Masada include the Essenes, an early form of Christianity, and some Moabites who worshipped other gods, but who live together amicably. However, the Roman army's advance is inexorable, and as supplies within the fortress begin to fail the leaders prepare for the deaths of all. The book is written in simple poetic prose enriched by descriptions of the traditions of the Jewish faith. Each section is presented through the eyes of a different woman, Rael who sees herself as an outcast, Shirah, the beautiful and powerful 'witch', Revka, who has lost all in the Roman advance and Aziza who becomes a warrior. The reader is given a clear view of life as it was for women in Jerusalem and Masada before the Roman conquest. While some of the earlier passages seem forced, and some of the romantic elements are implausible, the writing accumulates in power. The historical research about the details of everyday life and Judaic traditions is sound, and a convincing view of the pattern of life at that time is presented. This novel is recommended for senior readers.
Jenny Hamilton

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