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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Alice Hoffman - the Dove Keepers

review by Corinna Christopher live on show 7th July 2012

This is a real meaty book and for anyone who likes their history served up in a palatable way this is a good read. Although quite a long book with a lot of descriptive writing there is a continual good story following along.

It is set in 70 A.D. where an impenetrable fortress in the midst of the Judean desert has been built, originally as a palace for Herod. There , 900 Jews held out for 3 years against the might of the Romans. It is perched on top of a mountain called Masada and when the end comes only 2 women and 5 children survive to tell their story.

Alice Hoffman has woven a spellbinding tale of 4 resourceful women whose lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege. They are all consigned to look after the doves in the dovecotes, these are valuable for their eggs and the droppings which fertilise the orchards and gardens,

There is Yael whose Mother died giving birth to her and who with her remote father wanders in the wilderness for a long time, on the way falling pregnant to the husband of one of her fellow travellers. She is a striking girl with red hair and freckles who has great affinity with animals and birds.

Then there is Rekva wife of a baker who is forced to flee Jerusalem with her family. On the way she looses her husband and daughter in a terrible way with her grandsons rendered mute by what they have seen.

Aziza is a warrior’ daughter who for the first 13 years of her life was raised as a boy, subsequently she is not interested in women’s tasks and is a fearless rider and marksman,

Her mother is Shirah born in Alexandria and wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine. A complex woman who is skilled with healing herbs. Her abiding love is for the leader of the fortress and she has several children as well as many secrets.

We follow the fortunes of these four women their relationships among themselves and others in the community as they live their last days out in their extraordinary surroundings. Among them are some of the Essenes an ascetic Jewish sect widely regarded as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The fortress had many fine places, marble mosaics on the floors, frescoes on the walls, fine gardens, bathing pools heated with ceramic pipes and plenty of store rooms. In addition there were 12 gigantic cisterns to hold water which ran into them form the nearby hills.

Although we know the ending we feel lots of emotion with the Jews as they watch the approaching Romans with terror in their hearts. The climax is bloody and grim but given the conditions at the time it was inevitable .

There is lots of wonderful atmospheric detail to absorb and it is evident that the author undertook much research for this impressive book.

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