The Dovekeepers is historical fiction at its best, based on true events of staggering proportions. These four women carried the weight of their family's welfare with such courage and vision, they seemed like superheroes to me. And yet they weren't superheroes at all; they were human and fallible and real and now that I've finished the book, I miss them already.
In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean Desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael's mother died in childbirth, and her father an expert assasin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker's wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior's daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.
The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets - about who they are, where they came from, who fathered them, and whom they love. (inside flap)
I can remember the instant when I entered the world, the great calm that was suddenly broken, the heat of my own pulse beneath my skin. I was taken from my mother's womb, cut out with a sharp knife. I am convinced I heard my father's roar of grief, the only sound to break the terrible silence of one who is born from death. I myself did not cry or wail. People took note of that. The midwives whispered to one another, convinced I was either blessed or cursed. My silence was not my only unusual aspect, nor were the russet flecks that emerged upon my skin an hour after my birth. It was my hair, the deep bloodred color of it, a thick cap growing, as if I already knew this world and had been here before. pg5
As the years drifted by, my dreams were rich with the scent of bread, for below our sleeping chamber my husband had his bread ovens, the kind we called a tannur, made of mounds of rounded clay. The pale smoky clay glowed with orange heat when the ovens were stoked before daybreak. Throughout the years the fire that burned below our rooms ensured our warmth. pg154
Even now I am drawn to the old ways of life. I spend as little time as possible inside the dovecotes. Doves do not interest me, no woman's work does. I cannot weave or sew without pricking my fingers. When I cook, I burn the flatbread. My stew is tasteless no matter what ingredients I might add to the pot. There is not enough salt or cumin in the world to make my attempts palatable. I am clumsy at tasks my sister could complete with ease when she was a mere eight years old. pg 296
By the age of eight I had learned that the leaf of a date palm boiled in water was the cure for a scorpion bite, that the nectar of the spiky blue flower of the hyssop dabbed on the wrist would ward off evil, that the burned, powdery skin of a snake would keep a man from harm. I had the tooth of a black dog strung around my neck as a protection against wild beasts and took care to recite an incantation when I dug around the roots of henbane, the holy plant, for I other buried my mother's amulets as offerings to Ashtoreth, the goddess who watched over us in times of strife. pg397