The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman, Scribners, $18.00
The first novel I read by Alice Hoffman was Practical Magic. I was smitten immediately , even though the many covers the book has had over the years leave much to be desired -- I even threatened to wrap every one of them in brown paper! Most of her books have been past Features, not all though because as much as I love her work and the lyricism of her writing, she can be a bit uneven at times. But in taking on the full weight of a historical novel -- much less the tragedy of Masada two thousand years ago, she has launched herself to a whole new level of storytelling. One she takes on with her impressive gift for character, language and insight.
Told from the perspective of four women, she brings to life the story of nearly one thousand Jews who fled from the advancing Romans to a mountain, Masada in the Judean desert. They held out for months until the Romans finally broke down the walls only to find them all dead, choosing suicide to butchery and slavery. As each narrator tells her story: Yael, (daughter of an assassin), Shirah; (herbalist and wise woman), Revka and her mute grandsons, and Aziza, (raised as a boy and determined to fight the Romans) -- we fall away into a time of fear and passion, resignation and magic told with such fervor and talent -- it takes your breath away.
Comparisons have been made to Anita Diamant's "Red Tent" but I would also compare it to Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon". But believe me when I say the history of her past novels only slightly prepares you for this book. In tackling such a subject and taking on not just one fiercely independent and strong woman, but four unique aspects of the archetype, she has created a "women's" masterwork that will be loved by book clubs and course work alike. In tying to explain the complexity of this novel, I am once again struck by how hard it is to do justice in a review. So here goes: "Just read the damn thing, you'll be passing it around to friends for years to come".