Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman- Review
In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
Between the unbelievable amount of accolades this book was getting and its intriguing historical background this book shot up to the top of my to be read pile, shortly after it's release. But reviewing it has turned out to be harder than I imagined. I've pecked away at a review for it for months now, without feeling like I was truly explaining my experience of reading The Dovekeepers.
Let me start by saying, everything that's been said about this book is true. It's lyrical, so completely evocative of a time that's considered ancient history that it sweeps you away. The women are intriguing and strong, but also flawed. I felt as if Hoffman had opened a window into the past for me to peer through, the language, the imagery it was all perfect.
But it also had surprisingly slow pacing for a book about highly charged subject matters. To be frank, the pacing made parts of the book really drag for me, so despite being captivated by the writing, I'd put the book down for days at a time without feeling the need to know what happens next. Generally speaking, that never happens to me, unless I really dislike a book, which wasn't the case with The Dovekeepers. This left me wondering if I ultimately liked the story. Which turns out, was not an easy question to answer.
I felt like The Dovekeepers had 6 main characters, Revka, Aziza, Shirah, Yael, the mountain itself, and Judaism. Now I know your wondering what I could possibly mean by Judaism being a character. It's a character in many ways, first of all the nine hundred Jews that come together on the plateau come together because they're being prosecuted by the Romans, but also because in many ways all three of these women are outcasts by their own religion for varying reasons. Beyond that, their religion is their way of life, and everything they do is steeped in belief and/or ritual. This is fascinating and goes a long way to flavour the story, but it's also where I found the pacing to be the slowest.
After awhile the religious detail wore on me, and I found myself skimming every time I came to another lengthy description. The point had been made, I had the feel of the place and the life, but I wanted this story to move forward without constant interruptions about the unleavened bread. Of course, this made me feel like somewhere along the way I'd lost my love of genuine literature because look! It was so beautifully written! How could I be bored?
Then the end rolls in. And it was gripping, captivating and paced much more to my taste. I tore through the last 100 pages and the epilogue, and was completely won over again. But this left me, once again, with the indecision of whether I liked this book or not.
My final decision on the matter was although I loved many elements of The Dovekeepers, it was paced just a bit too unevenly for me to love it as a whole. Though without a doubt I greatly appreciate what an amazing story teller Alice Hoffman has become, and The Dovekeepers is one of those books you need to read just to experience it.
The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman
Published by Simon and Schuster, October 4th, 2011
My copy kindly provided by Simon and Schuster
Buy The Dovekeepers from Amazon