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Summary and book reviews of The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers

A Novel

by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2011, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2012, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
BJ Nathan Hegedus

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About this Book

Book Summary

Over five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman's most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel.

In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael's mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker's wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior's daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.

The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets - about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

Chapter 1
The Assassin's Daughter

We came like doves across the desert. In a time when there was nothing but death, we were grateful for anything, and most grateful of all when we awoke to another day.

We had been wandering for so long I forgot what it was like to live within walls or sleep through the night. In that time I lost all I might have possessed if Jerusalem had not fallen: a husband, a family, a future of my own. My girlhood disappeared in the desert. The person I'd once been vanished as I wrapped myself in white when the dust rose into clouds. We were nomads, leaving behind beds and belongings, rugs and brass pots. Now our house was the house of the desert, black at night, brutally white at noon.

They say the truest beauty is in the harshest land and that God can be found there by those with open eyes. But my eyes were closed against the shifting winds that can blind a person in an instant. Breathing itself was a miracle when the storms came whirling...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
This reading group guide for The Dovekeepers includes discussion questions and a letter from author, Alice Hoffman. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Topics & Questions for Discussion
  1. The novel is split into four principal parts, with each of the main characters - Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah - narrating one section. Which of these women did you find most appealing, and why? Were you surprised to find you had compassion for characters who were morally complex and often made choices that later caused guilt and sorrow?

  2. Yael describes her ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Dovekeepers, meticulously researched for five years, transports us to this ancient time and is filled with such rich detail, one can almost smell the cumin-dusted challah browning as it bakes. Without a doubt, this is Alice Hoffman's finest work to date, catapulting it far and above her previous endeavors.   (Reviewed by BJ Nathan Hegedus).

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Media Reviews

St. Louis Dispatch

If a world of strong women and their complex relationships with one another doesn't draw you into Alice Hoffman's brilliant new novel, The Dovekeepers, read it for Hoffman's fine sense of narrative, history and detail as she shares the story of four women who come by various paths to Masada.

Entertainment Weekly

The women in The Dovekeepers are physically and spiritually strong, they have elemental female desires when it comes to love, sex, and children... the author grounds her expansive, intricately woven and deepest new novel in biblical history, with a devotion and seriousness of purpose that may surprise even her most constant fans.

The Boston Globe

Alice Hoffman's "The Dovekeepers'' is a splendid entertainment, a harrowing, thrilling, feminist historical novel fueled to fever pitch by a rich imagination... a combination of good writing, affecting themes, and dramatic storytelling. It's an enthralling tale that lingers in the mind.

Publishers Weekly

Hoffman can tell a tale and knows about creating compassionate characters, but the leaden archaic prose style she uses tells more than it shows.

Library Journal

This powerful and gripping novel about survival and endurance will stay with you for a long time.

Kirkus Reviews

An enthralling tale rendered with consummate literary skill.

USA Today

Alice Hoffman weaves fiction and fact in The Dovekeepers, a thrilling, passionate saga of four women who come together to tend the doves in Masada. Hoffman's fiction is always compelling, but the history within The Dovekeepers makes this novel haunting.

Author Blurb Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature
Beautiful, harrowing, a major contribution to twenty-first century literature.

Author Blurb Jodi Picoult
I am still reeling from The Dovekeepers - from the history Alice Hoffman illuminates, from the language she uses to bring these women to life. This novel is a testament to the human spirit and to love rising from the ashes of war. But most of all, this novel is one that will never be forgotten by a reader.

Author Blurb Wally Lamb, author of The Hour I First Believed
In her remarkable new novel, Alice Hoffman holds a mirror to our ancient past as she explores the contemporary themes of sexual desire, women's solidarity in the face of strife, and the magic that's quietly present in our day-to-day living. Put The Dovekeepers at the pinnacle of Hoffman's extraordinary body of work. I was blown away.

Reader Reviews

Louise J

Hoffman At Her Very Best!!
I have read a lot of novels about ancient Jerusalem during this era but I must begin this particular review with one word – WOW!! I was completely entranced with Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers which took place during the Roman siege during the ...   Read More

Diane S.

The DoveKeepers by Alice Hoffman
What an amazingly powerful novel about the fall of Jerusalem and Masada. This took Hoffman five years to write and it is said to be her masterpiece, which for me it was. Four women of uncommon strength of will, magic , love and their quest for ...   Read More

avid

good historical fiction
Although I read that "The Dovekeepers" was inspired by a biblical story, this atheist was able to appreciate the historical and narrative qualities of the writing. The characters have enough depth and development to make this a very ...   Read More

Catherine

Only 400 pages too long
The love for my book club is quite strong because I read every page of this terrible book. I only read the last 180 pages because I was hoping everything would come together. I did not get my wish. It's the first book club book I've rated with a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Symbolism of Doves

Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers shows us a world where doves, in addition to serving day-to-day purposes, represent so much more. Along with their close cousin, the pigeon, doves make up the bird family Columbidae. And while they're often thought of as bright white birds, with over 300 species, they actually come in all shapes and sizes.

Asherah Throughout the ages, steeped in rich tradition and lore, doves have served to symbolize many aspects connected with the "Divine." In the ancient world, the dove was a symbol for the Mother goddess, the "feminine divine". Doves served as icons of fertility and procreation and were associated with the goddesses Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite and the early Judaic goddess of Canaan, Asherah (statue ...

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