The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman

Synopsis

The lives of four sensuous, bold and remarkable women intersect in the year 70 AD, in the desperate days of the siege of Masada, when supplies are dwindling and the Romans are drawing near. All are dovekeepers, and all are keepers of secrets – about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. There is Yael, the assassin’s daughter whose heartbreak leads to her true path in the ruins of the desert; Revka, the baker’s wife who loses her dearest treasure on earth and yet finds the strength to protect her family; Aziza, the warrior’s beloved who leads a secret life not even those closest to her could imagine; and Marit, beautiful witch of Moab, a woman as loyal as she is dangerous.

I am finding it extremely hard to review this book because I feel quite ambivalent towards it. I was attracted to this book first by its cover and later by its synopsis which reminded me of something akin to The Mists of Avalon if only in another socio-cultural and historical context. This was not the case. The writing was repetitive and monotonous. The characters, especially the first two filled their monologues with self-commiseration (some would joke that it is no wonder that judaeo-christian cultures are so pessimistic) and an amount of self-blame that made me want to give up reading it right away. The author repeats the exact same sentences over and over again, describes and explains every little detail and word, even those that are obvious in context. Half way through the book, I decided to keep reading if only to try to understand what the reviews about “life changing book” were all about and because I don’t like stopping in the middle of a book.

Although the book is written as the voice of four women, I didn’t feel their voices were any different from each other. The writing seemed to improve, but that could also have been the result of the development of story itself being and how inner monologues about the self started to give way to descriptions of events happening in the fortress. I started enjoying the book almost at the end when the action is palpable, sacrifices are made, and the signs are finally fulfilled. The final sections are emotional and leave you feeling uncomfortable. Unfortunately this happened around 90% of the book (I was reading it on my Kindle) and I only got there for sheer force of will. Regardless, I wouldn’t say it was a life changing book although I can appreciate that the author tried to give voice to women in an era where their voices are often silent.

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