To launch my 2016 reading resolution, I selected The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman as my book for January. My friend Donia, a fellow former history major, loves reading historical fiction, and she is my go-to expert on quality reads of that genre. She is selective in what she reads and recommends, and I highly value her opinion on books. The Dovekeepers was her top choice for me to read this year, as she gave the book 5 stars on Goodreads and plans to reread it over the years.
My local library had a copy available for check-out, so as soon as I wrapped up my Christmas break reads, I wasted no time in getting started on The Dovekeepers. I began the novel the day I started back at work after the holidays. Reading while school is in session can be a tricky endeavor. Too much time may pass between getting to read in a book, leading me to lose track of the characters and plot and perhaps abandon the book altogether. Alternatively, I may get extremely caught up in the book and stay up much too late reading it, leading to exhaustion and crankiness during the school day. My experience with The Dovekeepers most definitely leaned to the latter. I had a difficult time putting it down each night in order to go to sleep.
The novel is the story of four women whose lives entwine at Masada just before the Romans lay siege to the hilltop fortress in 73 CE. Each of the women, in her turn, is a first-person narrator of the story, and we the readers gradually learn each woman’s past and what led her to become a caretaker to the doves on the doomed rock plateau.
The Dovekeepers is fast-paced and gripping, as Hoffman details the horrors of the Jewish refugee life in first-century Judea. Starvation, adultery, murder, rape, and betrayal are present throughout the novel, yet they are tempered by the more tender moments of love and motherhood that surface despite the utter harshness of the characters’ day-to-day existence.
I enjoyed coming to know each of the female leads and seeing how they learned to rely on one another to survive, and it was the desire to know what was going to happen to each of them that kept me reading The Dovekeepers at a fast pace. Yet in the end, I could only give the novel 3 stars on Goodreads. The accounting of the final mass suicide on Masada on top of the horrific human acts already depicted in the book left me slightly sickened and depressed. Knowing that this event occurred in real life only made it worse. And knowing that there are people around the globe experiencing such terrors at this moment…I simply could not overlook my unsettled feelings upon finishing the book. I can easily see why my friend and many others love this book, however, as the quality of the writing and storytelling is truly excellent, and Hoffman certainly kept me reading up to the very end.