Sunday, 10 February 2013

Duck Egg Book Club - Alice Hoffman's - The Dovekeepers

Duck Egg Book Club
Duck Egg Designs runs a monthly book club chaired by our Editor Supreme, Jess. Last month our Book was Alice Hoffman's - THE DOVEKEEPERS.

Review below:


The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman

This is the first book of Alice Hoffman’s that I’ve ever come across; I was really surprised when I found out how many others she’d written!  It was recommended to me sometime ago but I only decided to give it a try when I was thinking of a book to kick off the Book Club with.  I’m actually really glad I did!

The story of the Dovekeepers is set in 70 AD and is based on the true story of the siege of the fortress Masada following the fall of JerusalemMasada (once King Herod’s palace) became a place of refuge for fleeing Jews as it was considered impregnable.  However, the Roman Army was determined to conquer it and this story had a tragic ending with a mass suicide of the 900 Jewish inhabitants when the Romans finally began to breach the walls.  According to the ancient historian, Josephus, only two women and five children survived. 

The Dovekeepers follows the stories of four women.  We begin with Yael’s story as she flees with her father and another family from Jerusalem into the desert.  Yael’s mother died giving birth to her and she is shunned by her father.  Yael travels across the desert eventually making her way to Masada.  Revka, who witnessed the horrific murder of her daughter at the hands of Roman soldiers, comes to Masada with her two grandsons who have been rendered mute by what they have seen and her son in law who has become a fearsome warrior following the death of his wife.   Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy and taught the skills of warfare she must somehow stay true to herself though women are forbidden from touching weapons.  Shirah, Aziza’s mother, is learned in the ways of ancient magic but must conceal all she is and all she knows for fear of being cast out again.

This story is so complex it would take me a long time to even begin to summarise all that happens.  Hoffman has written the book in four sections, one for each of the four women but as all of these women become dovekeepers at Masada she has cleverly weaved each woman into the stories of the other’s, so we follow the journey of all four women right until the end.

The book is so detailed and precise, Hoffman literally takes you on a journey; you can feel the relentless heat of the desert, smell the intense scent of the dovecote and feel the emotions of each woman.

From reading summaries of Alice Hoffman’s other books, she often writes about magic and there is an element of that in this book.  The magic is quite dark but doesn’t take away from the story.  I don’t know whether this is magic which was practised by women at that time but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. 

I really enjoyed reading the historical note at the end and discovering that Hoffman had kept a lot of fact in her story.  I would love to visit the site of Masada at some point as the idea that over 900 Jews chose mass suicide rather than face the Romans is utterly fascinating.  That the man leading them could inspire them to do so is also something which intrigues me.

Perhaps something to bear in mind is the fact that the book is lengthy.  At 500 pages it isn’t a light read and the material can sometimes feel a bit hefty.  It’s worth persevering with it though as I think it’s a great story, perhaps more so because it has an element of fact in it, I don’t know.

This is a story of loss, love, suffering and survival and I would recommend it 100%.

Jess - Duck Egg Book Club - Editor

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