Wednesday, May 6, 2015

THE DOVEKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman

My first problem with this book was that I didn’t know what C.E. meant.  Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that it is the same as A.D., without the Christian overtones, and that means higher numbers are more current.  The Romans have driven the Jews out of Jerusalem and seem intent on slaying them wherever they find them.  Then again, I don’t think the Romans spared anyone that stood in the way of their conquering armies.  This novel, narrated by four women, takes place in the first century A.D., or C.E., if you prefer, in Masada, a town on top of a mesa, with a palace built by Herod.  Yael arrives pregnant with her first child after her lover and his wife have died of a fever during the journey through the desert.  Accompanying Yael is her father, a member of an assassination squad, who barely acknowledges Yael as his daughter, since Yael’s birth killed his wife.  Yael’s brother Amram is in love with Aziza, daughter of Shirah.  Aziza would be one of Masada’s most talented archers, but she is forbidden to use weapons because she is female.  Shirah is the mistress of the leader of Masada and is an expert in spells and potions.  Revka is the widow of a baker and had to kill her own daughter to end her suffering after a vicious attack.  She now has charge of two grandsons, who have not spoken since witnessing their mother’s death.  Shirah and Yael are lusty women in forbidden relationships, but the sex scenes in the book are not particularly erotic.  These were violent times, but, again, the violence is not particularly graphic, until we reach the gruesome finale.  I did not know anything about Masada prior to reading this novel, so that the conclusion struck me as particularly insane.  This is supposed to be a novel about resilient women, but I couldn’t help thinking that their paths would have been a lot less rocky if they hadn’t let themselves become swept up in affairs with married men.  Consequently, the virtues of these women seemed to be diminished by their impractical choices in matters of the heart.  Also, the men come across as brutes, while the women show compassion for doves, a Scandinavian slave, and certainly each other.  Aziza even loses her taste for battle when she witnesses the slaughter of women and children in a raid for provisions.  I wish I knew how historically accurate these opposing portraits of the two sexes are.  Now I’m halfway through the TV miniseries, and I already know that the ending is different, and half the characters are missing.  Perhaps it will be an improvement.

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