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The Dovekeepers: A Novel
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VINE VOICEon September 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Dovekeepers" is the first book I've read of Alice Hoffmans'. In fact, one evening my wife looked at the book while I was reading in bed and said: "You're reading Alice Hoffman? I've read Alice Hoffman. But you don't read Alice Hoffman!"

And so I DID read Alice Hoffman and I liked Alice Hoffman. This is a very good book. It's real deep and very weighty.

"Dovekeepers" orbits around the real life events of the early 70s A.D. in ancient Judea. Rome was large and in charge and in the midst of shattering a Judean rebellion (seen commemorated in the famous Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum only a few hundred yards from the Colosseum in Italy). Several hundred Jews fled Jerusalem to the desert near the Dead Sea and moved into the former mountain fortress of King Herod at Masada. While the proud Jewish rebels held off a Roman legion for several years, Rome ultimately prevailed and all but two women and five children killed themselves rather than allow themselves to be overrun.

Hoffman's novel follows the lives of four women who all find themselves on Masada. Each woman has a dedicated 100-150 pages that weave in and out of each other's stories with the collective whole building a comprehensive picture of their mutual plight. The stories connect the women together in ways that are obvious and follow the primary arc of the novel, but also in ways that are surprising and poignantly fulfilling. The connections build and develop on many levels: physically, emotionally, and symbolically.

The book is full of characters who are broken and hurt; affected by some deep trauma catalyzed by the Roman attacks on Jerusalem; driving each, by their own will or otherwise, to the fortress in the desert. One of Hoffman's women is Yael, a deeply fractured and self actualizing individual who sums up the disparate journeys that brought the women to Masada: "We came like doves across the desert. In a time when there was nothing but death, we were grateful for anything, and most grateful of all when we awoke to another day."

You'll feel the weight of each character's pain and sorrow increase as the novel progresses. There are few happy endings. Hoffman's themes cover the gamut from fate and destiny, to religion and love, and the depths of devotion.

Faith is a thread that runs throughout Hoffman's carefully woven tapestry. It's not just a religious entity, but something that binds individuals, family units, as well as the entire rebel community. In Revka, Hoffman ponders the rebel Jews: "If we lost our faith, we would become like the clouds that swell across the western sky when the wind pushes them into the desert promising rain but empty inside." It's through Revka also that Hoffman finally (about half-way through he book) provides a heart-wrenchingly warm and genuinely surprising treat at the end of her particular novella. For the first time the furrow on my brow melted into a smile on my face (note: it didn't last very long).

Hoffman's Judean world is one of religion and tradition, of myth and magic: a world where everything in it has significance...symbolic or real. Some vignettes read almost as something out of a fantasy novel, but there's no melodrama to their weight.

In looking for a good way to summarize the books' tone, I found a couple of strong quotes. This first comes from Shirah, `The Witch of Moab': "Being human means losing everything we love best in the world. But would you ask to be anything else?" This second is from Revka: "...our waking life is formed by our sorrow. " In each character is anchored a heavy weight.

In this misogynistic society, few men come across in a truly positive light. Though Hoffman writes very sparingly, in her few words, she's able to expresses a multiplicity of ideas and thoughts. Characters are never solely what they seem to be and there is very little that is purely black or white. Hoffman's world is filled with shades of gray.

This book is going to resonate strongly for a lot of readers. It may be a bit polarizing because of its very serious nature. But as a first time reader of Hoffman, and a male, I feel fuller for having read this novel. I highly recommend it.
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on October 19, 2016
One of the best books I've read. Saw a documentary on Masada many years ago and found it intriguing how a settlement of people lived and died on top of that mountain. Willing to commit suicide rather than be taken into a life of slavery. This novel gave insight to how real lives may have been lived and the many trials they went through over the years. Though the book centers on several main characters it still gives you a sense of what some lived with or through. And how women carried the burden of being women, feeling one way but having to act in another.
The book is long, but once I got into it, it was hard to put down. It also came out that many of these women had intertwining lives that they didn't realize. Though I knew the story of Masada, I still was interested in how the author would tell the story and bring it to an end. Was not disappointed.....though towards the end I actually became very sad at so many having to come to such a fate.
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on September 1, 2017
In the back of my mind I had a vague knowledge of Masada so when I began reading I thought the presentation was a "little off." Too magical, too mystical, too much of everything. The more I read the more I appreciated it is the only way to tell the tale. What a great presentation of the powerful historical event. Bravo! I would have given 5 stars except for the final chapter which I hasten to say I did not read because I was happier ending up on the mountain ......not everything needs a gentle ending.
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on November 13, 2017
I loved this book. We have a trip planned next year that includes Masada. I couldn't have picked a better fiction book to read because it told the story from the perspective of 4 women all who fled the Roman's destruction of Jerusalem and found themselves at Masada. It also described the Jewish culture of the time and what they all had to do to survive up until when the Roman's finaally breached their defenses. I would highly recommend it. I couldn't put it down.
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on March 20, 2017
I took this book on a trip and was so glad I did. Made my trip. The characters develop and are interesting, great history lesson. This is a dark period of time so it is not overall "happy". but portrays the human condition and resilience. Highly recommended if you love historical fiction. Hoffman is an artist with words and paints a vivid picture.
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VINE VOICEon February 12, 2017
This novel has been on my nightstand for some time. Hence, it took awhile to finish.

But what a reward! Am placing it in my books to reread category as I believe I will appreciate it that much more a second time around.

The writing is masterful. The final chapters a beautiful, poignant closure.

As with biblical or historical based novels, I found myself reaching to other sources to learn more and it has enriched this reading experience and my own knowledge.
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on August 2, 2016
Too much recounting of each character's plight as the story progresses. Very redundant. We don't need to read over and over how Yeal's father detested her. The same can be said of the other characters as well.
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on May 8, 2014
Hoffman defeats a trifecta of historical novel demons in Dovekeepers:

1. She manages to balance pace, poetic language, and authentic historical detail. I'm not sure how it happened, but this book is a poem, a thriller, and an anthropology study all wrapped together.
2. She creates relatable characters for the modern day reader existing in an almost fantasy-like ancient world. Hoffman tells the story through the eyes of four women. Each POV took me on a journey that was a profound mix of heart-wrenching suffering, surprising twists, shots of remarkable beauty, and a constant stream of female courage at a time and place that would have scared me silly.
3. She keeps the ending tantalizingly mysterious, even though the historical context is well known. I finished the book days ago, but I can't get the ending out of my head.

The only slight warning I have is that Hoffman pulls no punches with the character's suffering. This makes the snippets of beauty and heroism and triumph all the more rewarding, but it can be tough on squeamish readers.

Overall, an amazing read.
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on October 1, 2017
A heartfelt saga of lives intertwined in a time of wars, empires, male supremicy and strong women who are survivors in a less than perfect world. Artfully told about an era when Jews were looking toward the future while holding on to one another and their faith. The setting is in post Jerusalem and Roman Empire days.
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on April 28, 2017
This was an excellent book. I liked the development of the characters and the interactions they had with each other. Fascinated to learn that it was based on a true story. Didn't realize that fact until I had finished reading it, and then looked up Masada and saw the pictures of the actual mountain top.
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