Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers

I just finished reading Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers. I couldn't help wondering if it was as painful for Hoffman to write as it was for me to read. I knew and dreaded the ending. I've been to Masada. I visited Israel in 1981. I think it would be hard for anyone to imagine the size and scope of that place without actually seeing it. Even having been there, it's hard to fathom an army of 6 thousand Roman soldiers camped in the desert below it's massive walls.

Hoffman's language is lovely-lyrical. I underlined sentence after sentence, sometimes wondering what does that even mean? But because phrase after phrase was so gorgeous, I still did it. Each character was sympathetic, mostly because they were brave while facing horrors I can't even imagine.

I wondered how much of her religion and sorcery was imagination and how much was based on research. How true was she to the mores of the societies she wrote of? Like many of the other Hoffman novels I've read, The Dovekeepers is at it's heart a story of mothers, daughters, and sisters, the women being much more powerful than the men.

Here are a few of the lines I underlined:

I saw the age in his step, the heaviness of his burden, for he carried all the cruelty he'd been party to on his shoulders.

They came to us as they swarmed upon so many lands with their immense legions, wanting not just to conquer but to humiliate, claiming not just our land and our gold but our humanity.

It was the future they had to face, as all men must death eventually. They could do so as cowards or as men of God, that was their choice.

He began to fold in on himself, a tangle of envy.

It was as though he no longer had children. We were only shadows on the wall, there to mock him and betray him.

guided by a map of rich fragrance sent into the air expressly for those driven by hunger.

Our silence thick in our throats.

Once you possess something others do not, you are a target for the wicked.

She'd brought the shawl with her on our journey, the single treasure she'd taken from home, whereas I had reached for poison. The choice you make about such matters reveals who you are deep inside.

He was with us, yet he had been summoned to another place entirely, the kingdom of vengeance.

Words had done that to me, twisted my heart as they poured out, clattered like stones onto the cobbled ground.

When you change your name, you change your fate as well.

Here we were surrounded by what some called the other side, the dark realm, for on this night we had wandered onto the evil side of the world that was also born from creation, that terrible region which could be found at the left hand of God and fed on human sin.

I will be leading a discussion on The Dove Keepers at the Foothill Ranch Library on October 5th.

From Wikipedia:
"Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice ... We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom."
— Elazar ben Yair


  1. I've been to Masada too. I love Alice Hoffman, but have avoided this book. This review was very helpful.

  2. It's a painful story of incredibly brave and faithful people.