I rarely read non-young adult fiction because I have too many other books to read for my middle school students but sometimes, a book or an author comes along that I just can’t pass up. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is one such book. Alice Hoffman is the author of one of my favorite books ever…Green Angel a book about loss and survival. The Dovekeepers has a similar theme. It takes place just after the fall of Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago and is told from the point of view of the women caught up in the battles of men. The story is brutal and graphic so, unsuitable for my young readers but highly recommended to all others!
Yael was born from death. She was cut from her mother’s lifeless body and cast aside as a murderer by her father. In those days, there were assassins who were invisible until they dealt their death blow to those outside of or who denied the Jewish faith. He taught his son the art of killing and the son soon surpassed his father. When the Romans conquered their village, they made a stealthy escape into the desert under the care of a kinsman, a man marked by a narrow escape from a lion. Their journey was long and difficult but when they reached the desert fortress where her brother was hiding, Yael was carrying a secret. Revka is the wife of an acclaimed baker whose husband was cut down in a Roman raid. She, daughter and her son-in-law gathered their young boys and fled to the desert where they found what they thought was a safe haven. However, it was soon discovered by a small garrison of Roman soldiers who brutally raped and murdered Revka’s daughter in full view of the children. Bitter and scarred within, they too, found their way to the mighty citadel built by a Roman king. Shirah found her way to the stronghold with her children because her beloved called to her in her dreams to come to him. She who knew the secrets of woman passed down from mother to daughter – spells and cures for fever and chills, love and hate – sees the fates of all who are gathered against the ever encroaching army of Rome. Daily, these women prove their strength, courage and determination to survive and even thrive in the forbidding landscape of the desert fortress called Masada.
Based upon accounts recorded by Josephus and other historians, Alice Hoffman weaves a magical, brutal tale of those who claimed Masada as their own. They fought the elements and, eventually, the Romans but were so unwilling to be defeated and taken into slavery that they wrought their own destruction. The Romans found only dead and charred bodies when they finally breached the walls that were unbreakable. The people had burned their stores, killed their livestock and themselves as a symbol of strength to their people and a symbol of determination to their enemy. Only five people, 2 women and 3 children, survived the massacre. This is their story.