Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Dovekeepers - Alice Hoffman (Audio)

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





18 comments:

christina said...

I have to say, Hoffman is a hit or miss with me...but I love the premise of this book. Still, I didn't realize it was that big since most of her books are fairly short. Might have to wait for summer.

Jackie Bailey said...

It sounds as though this book deserves a place on the Orange longlist more than most of the books I've read recently. Such a shame it didn't make it. I'll give it a try some time.

bermudaonion said...

I was proud of myself for finishing this one as well, but I didn't like it as much as you did. I'll be posting my review on Sunday, but I thought it was overwritten.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I'm really glad that you enjoyed this one. I've been putting it off because it's so big. I've heard great things about it, and I really should get to it. Great review!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This one sounds a bit like The Red Tent, which was so good. I'm with Christina though, Hoffman is hit or miss for me. This one sounds promising and I like that multiple cast audios if they are done well.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Gosh, I'm surprised. This is the first really positive review I've seen!

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I always associate Hoffman with lighter sort of book, with a bit of magic realist, similar to Sarah Addison Allen.

Like Melissa, i also thought of The Red Tent after your review.

JoAnn said...

You sure went to a lot of trouble to finish this one... so glad it was worth it! The reviews I've seen have been mostly mixed, but this may be the first audio review I've seen. That may be the way to go.

Zibilee said...

I have this one in print and am thinking that audio might be the way to go on this one. I do like really detail oriented character studies, so I would probably enjoy this one a lot, and it sort of reminds me of The Red Tent. Glad to hear that although it was a struggle at times that you pushed through and enjoyed it. It does sound like a book that I would really have to concentrate on to enjoy. Very detailed and thoughtful review today. I enjoyed it a lot!

Jenners said...

This sure doesn't sound like the Alice Hoffman books I used to read!

Jenny said...

Wow, this sounds crazy intense but worth the read. I have read Alice Hoffman before and don't remember her books being that intense!

caite said...

Big? Just how big..because I have my limits..

Ti said...

I read that first line of the synopsis and my eyes glazed over. I don't think I could focus long enough for a book like this to sink in.

Marie said...

Maybe I need to give this another try. it bored me when I tried to read it several months ago. now to see if i still have my galley...

Tasha B. said...

It's funny how I immediately recognize the cover, but if you had told me the title, I wouldn't have been able to place it. I've read Hoffman before, and while she doesn't usually write the kind of novels I gravitate toward, I agree that she's a very good writer.

Julie P. said...

I didn't hate this one but I didn't love it. Not quite sure what to say and that's probably why I haven't written my review yet. I will say that I never could have listened to it...

Kathleen said...

I've heard about the events this book is based on and think I would enjoy it. It sounds like it builds slowly but forewarned is forearmed, no?

The Bumbles said...

Hooray for being rewarded with your perseverance! I'm the opposite of you, I think. I would never survive this type of read in audio - I need the words on the page to anchor my attention.