Because of holiday insanity, my Skype book club took a several month break, and resumed in January with a discussion of "If Jack's In Love" by Stephen Wetta. I completely missed the boat with that one, and decided that I would join them with February's selection "The Dovekeepers".
I don't mind admitting that this book intimidated the hell out of me. The size of the thing, the description, the author's reputation of being "smart" (maybe too smart for me) all contributed to my trepidation. My library only had the MP3 version of the audio, so I did my best to grind through it in the car. My time ran out, the audio was returned to the library. I was then able to get the discs from the library, and uploaded it into my iPod, where I was able to finish it. But the process took some time. I have never been so proud of myself for finishing a book. Now let's see if I can organize my thoughts to summarize this ambitious novel.
Synopsis: In a text written by historian Josephus, there is a story of 900 Jews, living in Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. After being under siege for months by the Romans, they decided to commit suicide rather than succumb to the Roman rule. Out of this tragedy, two women and five children survive. After a trip to Masada, Alice Hoffman was inspired by this story, and felt compelled to tell the story from the viewpoint of four strong female characters.
Yael, daughter of an assassin, has lived under a curse her entire life, knowing that her birth caused her mother's death. Revka is a baker's wife who witnessed her daughter's brutal death at the hands of the Romans, and is now caring for her grandsons. Shirah is called the Witch of Moab because of her skills in healing and casting spells. Shirah's daughter Aziza was raised as a boy after being violated by soldiers, and is a fearless warrior.
Through these women, who each narrate their own stories, we are provided insight to the passions, fears, and motivations of strong women living in a barren land pervaded by starvation, brutality, and a love of God.
My thoughts: I am normally not a reader that fully appreciates a novel heavy on character-building and light on action. I don't like that about myself, but those are the facts. And this book is all about bringing to life these four women, with most of the action occurring in the last few chapters of the book. Hoffman makes slow and arduous work of it. The narratives are detailed and full of history...history I am not familiar with. If this hadn't been an audio, I'm not sure if I would have been able to persevere.
But once Hoffman births these women Yael, Revka, Shirah and Aziza, I came to love them. They are all silent and strong and exactly what I want in female protagonists. These are not shrinking violets in a man's world. They love fiercely, they birth babies, they kill lions, they slay men, they bleed, they curse their enemies. They are the Sisterhood of the Ass-Kickers.
And based on the actual events that inspired Hoffman to write this story, we know there is going to be a showdown coming, and that only two women survive. Knowing this planted a seed of dread in my stomach early on, because I was invested and didn't want to lose anyone. And for all that laboring that I went through while Hoffman was character-building, the climax was worth the effort. It was earth-shattering and so visual in my mind's eye, it was like watching a movie.
Hoffman's writing is absolutely gorgeous, almost other-worldly. This is the first novel I've read of hers, and I was blown away. Her words are rich and brilliant and textured, creating a read that isn't necessarily a quick and easy, but a masterpiece.
A few words about the audio production: In the land of audiobooks, when the story has distinctive narrators such as this one, the perfect scenario is a cast of readers. I can honestly say this format has never disappointed - it takes the story to a whole new level. The readers for "The Dovekeepers" were Aya Cash, Tovah Feldshuh, Jessica Hecht, and Heather Lind. I'd heard both Cash and Lind in the production of "Perfect" and they were a phenomenal representation of young women in both that story and this one. I couldn't ask for more in an audio experience.
4.5 out of 5 stars