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Bookclub-in-a-Box is giving away 10 copies of Alice Hoffman’s new best-selling historical novel The Dovekeepers from Simon & Schuster Canada—and 10 Dovekeepers posters to match! To enter, just send your full mailing address to email@example.com by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, July 6. (UPDATE: This contest is now open to entrants all across Canada!)
Thinking about reading The Dovekeepers for your book club? Read our review here, written by Bookclub-in-a-Box’s Marilyn Herbert, and let us know what you thought of the book in the comments below!
Historical fiction is a fascinating genre that deals with those who come before us in time, place, and event. As readers, we constantly measure ourselves against those from the past. Could we love or hate as they have? Could we survive their challenges? Could we behave as they did, given their circumstances and relationships?
Alice Hoffman takes us back to the well-known story of Masada, an isolated mountaintop Judean fortress that was home to nearly 1,000 Jews trying to escape Roman occupation nearly 2,000 years ago. By the time it was over, 960 men, women, and children were dead by their own, and not enemy, hands.
Hoffman introduces four women: Revka, Yael, Shirah, and her daughter Aziza, who care for the community’s doves. Each woman came to Masada under a different set of conditions, and through them, we learn of the Jews who were forced to leave Jerusalem and escape to the desert sanctuary.
Yael was the daughter of an assassin who was able to walk invisibly among the living to carry out his missions. She inherited his skills, but not his murderous, uncaring personality. She used his talents to help her community.
Revka witnessed the rape and murder of her daughter by Roman hands. Her grandsons lost their ability to speak because they watched their mother suffer and die. Revka devoted herself to the care and survival of these children, to the exclusion of others, until Yael came along.
Shirah was reputed to be a witch, and in fact, was able to create potions and medicines for a host of ailments and even curses. Her daughter Aziza was disguised as a boy for her own protection. She becomes a warrior, fighting alongside the men.
Traditionally, history is told from a male perspective, as it is usually the men who win, lose, or die in the battles fought for freedom. Hoffman offers up the female outlook because, in fact, there were two women and five children who survived the massacre. This adds emotional weight to the traditional story documented by the Jewish historian, Josephus, who himself had survived against the Romans in the battle of Yodfat.
The book’s title is a clue to Hoffman’s overall thematic setting. Doves were an important part of life on Masada. The eggs fed the people and the droppings fertilized their crops. Doves are also known for their ability to transport messages and return to their homes. Symbolically, the dove is a representative of peace and well-being. It was a dove that returned to Noah’s Ark with an olive branch, signifying the end of the flood. During the time the women cared for the doves, life was hard, but livable. As the Romans put them under siege, things became dire. When the doves died, so did hope.
Readers of Hoffman’s extraordinary novel will find their imaginations supported, challenged, and embellished by the research and characterization she presents. I recommend reading this book during a real visit to Masada, but if that’s not possible, the novel will transport you there anyway.
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