I actually finished The Dovekeepers a couple of months ago, but I’ve been sitting on the review because it’s one of those books that’s hard to describe. When the book jacket calls it a “tour de force” and Hoffman’s “masterpiece,” how do I describe such a novel any better?
The Dovekeepers is the story of 4 women who have fled to Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert, to escape persecution by Roman soldiers. Each of the women tells their tale in their own voice, with events at times overlapping.
Yael is the first to share her story, telling of her childhood with her assassin father and his protege, her brother whom she adored, how she left her home and spent time in the desert before arriving at Masada, and her assignment to work in the dovecote run by Shirah. Revka was the wife of a baker who now cares for her grandsons who have not spoken since witnessing the terrible fate of their mother. At first disdainful of Yael she soon takes her in and cares for her. Aziza is Shirah’s daughter, talented with a bow and arrow from her time in her youth spent pretending to be a boy. And Shirah is knowledgeable in magic, a talent she must keep hidden as such ways are no longer permitted, and provides medical services to the women of Masada, often in secret.
The Dovekeepers is Historical Fiction at its best. It is best read in big chunks rather than little pieces and it’s not a fast read. Each character’s voice is distinct and honest, and their pain and emotions resonate. Hoffman is a master storyteller but she also fully envisions her characters, resulting in a book with both wonderful character depiction and engrossing plot. The fact that I read this so long ago but the voices have stayed with me really speaks to Hoffman’s talent. Magical realism is also present, but in small ways that don’t overpower the rest of the story.
Those who enjoy novels set in Biblical times with strong female characters will appreciate The Dovekeepers.
Notes on the audiobook: The audio version of The Dovekeepers has 4 narrators, one for each character and their portion of the story. Each woman does an exceptional job with her character, contributing to the listener’s ability to empathize with their sorrows and hardships. It’s one of the longer audiobooks, at 19 hours, and I would suggest that anyone interested in the audiobook should devote their full attention to the story.
Nancy enjoys stories set in ancient times but prefers life in modern times. She writes about her 2 boys, books and life in Colorado at Life With My Boys and Books.
This book is up for discussion next month in my bookclub. I’m afraid I’ve fallen a bit behind in my bookclub reading (so many *other* books I want to read, too), but your review makes me want to rush out and get started reading it. Thanks for the inspiration.
I hoped you would like this since it was hands down my favorite book of last year. The characters really do stay with you for a long time after you finish it. Now I am itching to get back to Israel to go back to Masada. Imagine looking out at the fortress having those voices in your head!