Though I’ve always been a Hoffman fan, but I didn’t read The Dovekeepers in 2011, when it first came out. Based on the reviews at the time, I feared it would be too serious, too Biblical, too long. Then, last December, my family spent a week in Israel, and after visiting Masada, around which this story revolves, I felt impelled to read it.
Masada is a mountaintop, a mesa really, in the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. An entire city existed there once, replete with meat markets, bakeries, textile emporiums, temples and schools. In the year 73 CE, it was the last stronghold for more than 900 Jews who were standing their ground against the conquering Romans. When it became clear that their water and food was gone and that they were surrounded by the enemy and couldn’t possibly survive, they made the decision to kill themselves rather than be killed by the Romans or taken as slaves. When the Romans scaled their walls, they found bodies.
The real-life story is one of determination, faith, and free choice. Hoffman’s fictitious account is no less stirring. She imagines that two of the women on Masada and a handful of children were exempted from the slaughter by the Jews themselves, for the express purpose of telling their story to the world. The Dovekeepers is that story.
Actually, Hoffman tells the stories of four Masada women – their early lives in other places, how they came to Masada, their existence in the dove keep there, and their increasingly complex relationships with each other. She weaves a typical Hoffman-esque web around these women, with enough of the magical to satisfy lovers of Practical Magic.
The Dovekeepers is historical fiction at its best. Talk about a community of women. Talk about mothers and daughters, daughters and fathers, lovers, political strife, even maternal instincts gone awry. As a writer, I can’t begin to imagine the amount of research the author did. My kudos to her for that.
My kudos to her for the entire book. I am in awe.