Book Review: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

hoffman_dovekeepersI’ve read a lot of disappointing books as of late, but this story captured nearly every element of what I consider a great book, reminding me of why I love to read in the first place.  It was deeply moving, incredibly powerful, heartbreaking, at times disturbing, and best of all, it had a conclusive ending… in other words, I hated it!  (Sorry, I started to feel like some tween gushing over Justin Bieber, so I thought I would throw in one negative jab for good measure, even if it was blatantly false).  Kidding aside though, if I were to offer one piece of criticism, it would be that I didn’t necessarily feel emotionally attached to the characters.  And even despite the fact that this book didn’t move me to tears even once (the mark of the best kinds of books), I still felt oddly fulfilled after reading it.  But enough about me, I’m sure you are dying to know what The Dovekeepers was actually about!

The story takes place in ancient Israel, at a time when many Jews fled to the desert to escape persecution at the hands of the Romans.  After months of roaming the deserts, some Jews found their way to the desert stronghold of Masada – which later proved to be the last holdout against Roman invasion.

The fortress was inhabited by nearly 900 people by the time the Romans found it and began planning their attack on the stronghold.  In this fortress, four women assigned to work at the dove keep (doves were kept because their droppings could be used as fertilizer for the groves of almond trees and other crops) found their lives irrevocably intertwined.  All of the women are haunted by their tumultuous pasts as they attempt to carve out a future for themselves.  Yael’s father still hasn’t forgiven her for the death of her mother during childbirth, and after getting impregnated by a married man, she can’t shake the ghost of the man’s dead wife.  Luckily, Shirah (a.k.a. the witch of Moab), proficient in the art of ancient magic and armed with a book of spells and herbal remedies, is able to help Yael free herself from the clutching grip of her ghosts.  Shirah has troubles of her own though, and is cursed by the knowledge that all those she loves will ultimately be destroyed by her love, and so she strives to keep those she cares most about at a safe distance.  Aziza, the daughter of Shira, feels the sting of her mother’s neglect, and finds solace in dressing as a man and training as a warrior, although handling weapons is forbidden of women.  Finally, the oldest of the four women, Revka, witnessed the brutal rape and murder of her daughter, an event so horrific that it left her grandson’s mute for years and years.  She also enlists Shirah’s assistance the help her grandson’s find their voices once again.

One of the primary reasons I like this book so much was that it was told from the perspectives of all four women.  The story was still told in chronological order (in other words, each woman was not simply retelling her version of the same story).  This worked out well for me, because I did not much care for Yael’s perspective (Part 1), and was glad when Revka took over in Part 2. Interestingly, I liked Yael much better when the other characters described her in later sections of the book, but  hearing her thoughts first hand just frustrated me (probably because of her obsession with her “lion,” a married man who was friends with her father).  In a way, having four narrators ensured that the reader didn’t get tired of hearing the same person relate the entire book, and it also illuminated so much more about each of their lives, feelings, and thought processes – information which would have been unavailable had we not had had the first person narration from each of the women.  I liked switching narrators so much that I wish there would have been two more: Nahara, the other daughter of Shirah who forsakes the strong woman we saw early on to become a subservient wife and complacently accept their impending doom, and Channa, the wife of the leader at Massada who is driven by her infertility and jealousy to steal a Yael’s baby.  I think those two would have had interesting stories to tell, particularly Channa.

I would definitely recommend this book to all my female friends, but it isn’t really suited for male readers, in that I would find it hard for many male readers to relate the practically all female cast.  That said, I hope many of you female readers give this book a shot, and hopefully find it as interesting as I did.

Final grade: 4 out of 5 stars (a point taken off for not making me cry.  Yes, I actually enjoy a good cry while reading, deal with it!  Any of you who have felt refreshed and a renewed sense of calm after a good My Girl sob session will understand what I am talking about!)

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One thought on “Book Review: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

  1. I really enjoyed this review because I didn’t really love this book and I think you pointed out the reasons that I could have loved it if I would have come to it at a different time. Thank you for sharing this.

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