Thursday, March 14, 2013

One of a Kind Read by Well Established Author

Alice Hoffman’s The Dove Keepers is the tale of the lives of 4 women of ancient Israel in the time of the battle of Masada.  It is a bit long but well worth the journey!  The book has been meticulously researched and was 5 years in the making.  It has been called her literary masterpiece.  I’ll let you decide about that but it really is a page turner.  More than a story of action it is a family saga of 4 complex women full of character development and also the story of a time and a place.

The book jacket puts it rather succinctly, “The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege.  All are dove keepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.”
The story centers around Shirah, often referred to as the Witch of Moab because she keeps the outlawed ancient arts and goddess worship that has been outlawed by her people alive, but always in secret.  She is a healer and has talismans and potions to heal and keep her loved one safe.  She also serves as the city’s midwife.  She is the lover of the leader of the army.  Shirah is the head Dove keeper and the doves are important to the fertile valley in the Judean valley where these ancient zealots are holed up waiting for the strike that they know will one day come from the Roman soldiers as they seek total domination of the holy lands.  The doves fertilize the abundant plants that feed their people so caring for their health is important work.  All four of the women have come from Jerusalem at different times, for different reasons, and their 
lives become intertwined. 

The book takes you through great highs and lows including two illegitimate births.  A large part of the book is centered around Yael, whose mother died giving birth to her.  Her father despises her and treats her like a dog throughout most of the story because he can’t move on in his life, he keeps grieving for his lost wife.  He is the top assassin of the zealots and has trained Yael’s brother in the ways of stealth.  The book is full of the magical in everyday life.  It is said that Yael’s father has a cloak of invisibility and wearing it helps Yael through desperate spots in the story.  Her family has traveled in the desert for a very long time until stumbling on this mountain oasis, former home of King Herod, where Yael’s brother has saved them accommodations.  Yael befriends a prisoner from the north who is sent to work in the dovecotes.  The women dove keepers all have an overwhelming and fierce humanity in the way they treat others including the slave.  It is a touching part of the narrative.  Revka was a village baker’s wife before coming to the mountain.  She takes Yael in when her father throws her out when it becomes obvious that she is with child.  Hoffman shows how ethics and actions are often circumstantial, especially in dire circumstances.  Revka relies on magic to help her grandchildren learn to speak again.  They have witnessed the atrocities of war and are rendered mute.  Revka loses her daughter and comes to think of Yael as her replacement.  The book is by turn a sensual tale and the recounting of desperate times and journeys but it is never dull.  There is betrayal, bloodshed, and loss but it is an uplifting story as well.  Just as you think you've figured everything out another mystery develops so there’s never a lull in the story.

There is bravery of the greatest order here and always a solidarity and loyalty of the women to each other and their families.  The witch looses a daughter to the Essene sect and mourns, again, Yael becomes the replacement for this fierce woman.  The Dovekeepers is a story that has rarely been told, even in non-fiction, so it makes for a remarkable read.  The library has many copies of this moving book.  Give yourself a treat and put a copy of it on hold for yourself today!

You can request this title by clicking the name at the top.

Book review by Kathleen Richardson

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