My hold for this one finally came in! The Dovekeepers is the story of the fortress of Masada, Israel in 70AD. Nine hundred Jewish rebels and their families are sheltering from the Roman army, Jersualem and their way of life already destroyed. Amongst these nine hundred Jews are four women, who together tell the story of life before and during the siege. Yael's mother died in childbirth and she has been blamed for it ever since. Revka is a baker's wife who witnessed horrific things when her village was destroyed. Aziza wants to be a warrior, but is trapped by her gender. And Shirah has followed the man she loves to the fortress, putting her children in danger.
The Dovekeepers was one of those books that made me love reading again. I wouldn't say I had been in a reading slump, but I hadn't read a book that blew me away in a good long while. When I opened The Dovekeepers and started reading, I had one of those "THIS is why I like reading" moments. Don't you just love those moments?
I think what made The Dovekeepers so compelling was the amount of research that had gone in to it, and how completely the author immerses the reader in life in Ancient Israel. I didn't feel like Hoffman was telling me what it was like then, I felt as though I was living it. Too often in historical fiction I come across jarring modern dialogue or worse, modern ideas and morals, but this book felt very authentic. The characters all felt rooted in their times and this bought the past to life. I was also impressed with how much grit the story had; Hoffman didn't shy away from the darker sides of the siege and the last section was harrowing to read.
Each of the four women tells a quarter of the story and it was Yael's story that I enjoyed the most. Whilst all the narratives were believable and enjoyable, Yael's personality and spirit lept off the page and I found myself rooting for her. In the synopsis provided on the inside cover, Hoffman tells you that only two women and five children survived the siege and this creates a tension throughout the whole story. As a reader you come to like all four of the main characters and this gives the ending a powerful impact. I finished this book a few days ago and I'm still thinking of the ending now, of how brutal humans can be to each other.
The Dovekeepers is the best piece of historical fiction I've read in years and I will definitely be looking out for more of Hoffman's books. Highly recommended.
First Published: 2011
Score: 5 out of 5
1. Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner - Story of an Orthodox Jewish girl in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire who wants to break free of the restrictions and expectations of her religion.
2. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway - Another haunting story of life under siege, this time in Sarajevo in the 1990s.
3. The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn - Historical fiction retelling of the Jewish story of Purim, where Queen Esther saves the Jews.