The Women of Masada – “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman

January 2, 2012 at 11:16 am 13 comments

 “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman, Published 2011 

I enjoyed this book. Though long and at times a bit repetitive, it was worth the small amount of drudgery.  The story of Masada is heart-breaking but is important and using historical fiction Hoffman does a great job of engaging the reader in the tragedy.

Around 70 A.D. Jews who had been cast out of their homelands by the Romans created a new home for themselves in Masada, a mountain fortress created by King Herod.  They survived years of skirmishes with the Romans until 73 A.D. when the Romans finally invaded Masada, and according to Jopheus, a Jewish historian of the time, all of the Jews committed mass suicide (this is a controversial point).  The sole survivors were two women and five children.

English: Masada northern palace built by King ...

Image via Wikipedia

Though you know how this tale will end, Hoffman takes this historical event and weaves in her story of four women.  All of them come to Masada seeking refuge and healing. They don’t find exactly what they are looking for but all four find what they need to meet their destinies. They become dovekeepers, collecting their eggs and using their excrement as fertilizer to help the crops grow. It is not  the most respected task but this work and the doves become a way to keep the women connected to each other.  All four women grow to love and respect each other – so relationships that arise out of suspicion and brokenness become something beautiful and meaningful for all four women. There are men that break them, love them, fail to truly see them and ultimately in one way or another desert them. But Hoffman makes a careful point that, with or without the men, these women have to find the strength in themselves and each other to survive.

Hoffman has given the women of Masada a voice.  This book is harrowing and tragically sad.  It is a story about not just persecution of the Jews but also the persecution of women.  But it is also a story of enduring faith and strength, that is there even when the characters least expect it.

  “The voice that arises out of silence is something no one can imagine until it is heard.” 

For other reviews please check out:

Also by Alice Hoffman – “The Probable Future” 


Entry filed under: January 2012 reads. Tags: , , , .

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ClaireMcA  |  January 3, 2012 at 4:23 am

    I like Alice Hoffman, her ‘Blackbird House’ is one of my favourite books, I have been watching this one for a while, tempted for it to come my way. Thanks for your review, its another yes vote.

    • 2. Emily C  |  January 5, 2012 at 11:54 am

      Oh, I have not read “Blackbird House.” I am putting on the list. Thank you for the recommendation.

  • 3. Nella  |  January 5, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Thanks for the review. I’ve always liked Alice Hoffman’s books, but this one seemed a bit off her usual path, so I wasn’t sure about it. Now I’ll give it a try.

    • 4. Emily C  |  January 5, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Please let me know what you think.

  • 5. dianeledet  |  January 8, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Hi Emily, Really enjoyed your review and the picture of Masada is so helpful. I’ve told many people about this book and am surprised how few ever heard the story of Masada previously. I think Hoffman did a good job of making the story come alive and agree with your insights on the book.


    • 6. Emily C  |  January 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm

      Thanks Diane. I really didn’t know a lot about Masada before I read this book and then followed it up with a little research. I think this was one of Hoffman’s best pieces of writing.

  • 7. janewalters  |  January 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I haven’t read many Alice Hoffman books but I remember reading the Ice Queen a few years ago, it was good book, she has a very different style to the books I normally read. I might read the Dovekeepers now.

    • 8. Emily C  |  January 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      If you do, you will have to let me know what you think. I haven’t read the Ice Queen – I will have to check it out.

  • 9. Kelley  |  April 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    This review actually makes me want to read this book! Going on the TBR!

  • 10. Deb Atwood  |  October 7, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I’m a huge Hoffman fan but had kind of avoided this one. I read part of it and felt turned off by the treatment women received at the hands of men as well as those of other women. The way you describe the ending makes it seem uplifting. Sounds like the women prevail. I should try again…

    • 11. Emily C  |  October 7, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      It is a tough read for sure. But I do think the message of strength and courage for the female characters prevails. It is just hard reading to get there. I hope you end up liking it.

  • 12. Pallavicini Janet  |  March 20, 2015 at 11:31 am

    I think I have or have read all Hoffman’s books. Dove Keeper is a favorite. Some books more than others… Practical Magic book & music are a real favorite. I hope they do “SERVICE” to the upcoming mini series.

    • 13. Emily C  |  March 22, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Yes, I am a little nervous about the miniseries – and I agree this book is Hoffman at her best.


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