Wednesday, April 03, 2013

review: the dovekeepers

My journeys to the bookstore this year have been filled with picking up all of those haunting "mean to read" books. Every single time I go lately I've been picking up something that I keep wanting to read. Apparently, I know my tastes because I've enjoyed everything so far and this is no exception. The Dovekeepers has haunted me at the bookstore for years now. It hits all sorts to checkboxes that make me want to pick up a book: it's critically acclaimed, about women, historical fiction, discusses religion in a historic context.

I first learned about the mass suicides at Masada in high school, in Latin class. Because clearly I was the geek who learned to read Latin (I also maybe wrote my high school diaries in runes to make them hard to crack, but you know, this isn't all about what a weirdo I am), and when you elect to learn Latin you also get to learn all sorts of ancient history. Maybe that's why I'm a fan of the civilizations exhibits at museums. It was a fascinating story: an entire city that chose to organize a mass "suicide" rather than surrender to the Roman forces.

Alice Hoffman explores this story through the eyes of four women of Masada. I don't even know where to start with the beauty of this book. The history is simply astounding, the characters are strong and weak and complex and interesting all at once. Perhaps most interesting to me is the portrayal of Judaism at the time, how much seems to be relying on myth and angels, how deeply these characters live their religion, how much a part of them their beliefs are - even when they claim not to believe. The repetition of the rule not to harm oneself, that it is harming God's creation - the way that rule is hammered in repeatedly, and how relevant it is to the story being told.

The story unfolds in the most gorgeous way, with the four narrators each taking a turn. As any one voice begins I started with the feeling that I wasn't particularly a fan of the character. Hoffman's brilliance in writing is that over the course of a few short chapters I move from not liking the character to being fascinated by them.

Hands down, I would pick this up again and read it happily. My only regret is that I didn't read it sooner.

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