Alice Hoffman’s new novel is, overall, a departure for the popular author which nevertheless retains her favorite elements. The Dovekeepers is weighty historical fiction that features strong women and a touch of magic. It centers on the Roman siege and tragedy at Masada 2,000 years ago, told in the voices of four women who tend the doves in the mountain fortress.
This is a special book for Hoffman, and she devoted years to its research and writing. For more on what inspired her interest in Masada, take a look at this letter to her readers or listen to her tell the story on video, including images of the dovecote ruins.
Obviously, this is not a book that will appeal to the majority of teens. But do offer it to those who enjoy history, those interested in what life was like during biblical times, mature readers who relish excellent writing, and fans excited to follow Alice Hoffman into new territory.
Adult/High School–In 70 C.E. time is running out for the Jews holding against the superior forces of the Roman Army. Jerusalem has fallen, and now Roman attention is turned to the 900 Jewish rebels who fled to the mountain stronghold of Masada. Among the turmoil and anguish are four women assigned to be dovekeepers in this stark, fateful place. Yael is raised by a father who blames her for her mother’s death and refuses to acknowledge her; Revka arrives with her traumatized grandsons who no longer speak after the brutal death of their mother. Aziza, raised as a boy to become an accomplished soldier, walks a fine line between womanhood and her abilities as a warrior; and Shirah, born into a pagan world that celebrates women’s strength, spirit ,and magic, is now despised by priests and all who forswore pagan ways. These women struggle to accept themselves, even as desperate events force them to desperate measures. The story of the downfall at Masada is an amazing story of a people who faced down their enemies with the sheer force of their will. Hoffman succeeds in creating a cross section of characters who embody differing worldviews of the time, allowing readers to more fully understand the decisions each woman made as she found her way to the desert stronghold. This is an intense novel of history, women’s spirituality, desperation, Jewish culture, and survival. For teens who delve deeply into history or who think about religion, culture, or social customs, this is an excellent recommendation.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA