HP Book Club

The student-led HP Book Club meets on Saturday evenings to discuss books they've read as a group. Club members select and vote on the books they want to read together. Contact Mary Kate Gale for more information!


Review of Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers

The tales of powerful women are often lost to history, but Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers is looking to rectify that. In late first century CE, at the height of the Jewish population’s first major rebellion against Rome, a small group of Zealots held their own at the fortress of Masada, a military stronghold atop a mountain in the desert. The Roman army conducted a siege campaign against the fortress, and rather than fall to their greatest enemy and risk their women and children becoming enslaved, the leaders of Masada instead selected to commit mass suicide. What we know about this event comes from the tales of the seven survivors, two women and five children that hid during the final carnage and managed to escape with their lives.

The meat of this story follows four women who arrived at Masada in its heyday, looking for shelter and companionship after their separate worlds had all collapsed. We meet Yael, the assassin’s daughter; Rekva, the baker’s wife; Aziza, the warrior’s beloved; and Shirah, the witch of Moab. Hoffman builds both the past and present of each woman with a deft touch and lyrical prose and creates four characters with deep and multi-dimensional lives. All are good, but all have made mistakes and difficult choices that haunt them. Interestingly, Hoffman elects to write her novel in four parts, each in a first-person perspective from one of the four women, instead of switching between views across multiple chapters. This serves to bring her readers deeply into each woman’s story, instead of leaving us distracted as we skate from plot to plot.

Personally, I adored this book. Hoffman did a marvelous job at a difficult task: weaving what we know of a historical event with a fictionalized account that more closely resembled what she wanted to tell. Many of her characters, from the fortress’s leader to the white slave captured from the Romans, hold up against established fact, and she even incorporates artifacts found in and around the fortress. This is a well-researched and gorgeously-written novel, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for history, the untold stories of powerful women, or even just a book guaranteed to sit on your heart long after you turn the final page.

- written by Mary Kate Gale