Club Selection for June 2017
Four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father 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 twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.
The four lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
The book was recently, 2015, made into a multi-episode TV movie starring Maia Laura Attard, Rachel Brosnahan, Cote de Pablo and Kathryn Prescott.
Carol's Rating: ★★
This was one of our reading club selections and to be honest, I was reluctant to read it. My experience with a different Alice Hoffman novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, led me to believe this author focuses on the dark and macabre, which isn't my cup of tea. However, as I looked into the plot and topic for The Dovekeepers, I became intrigued with the events of the last Jewish revolt and the siege of Masada. I decided to give this author another try by listening to the audiobook.
From the beginning, I had trouble getting into the story. I was confused by the sudden changes to different female characters telling their story and I couldn't grasp what they had to do with each other. The story felt like drudgery and the characters seldom experienced joy of any sort in their lives. On the rare occasion that they did, such as the birth of a child, joy was fleeting and the focus quickly returned to the burden of being alive. The last quarter of the book picked up steam and had some clever twists, which was nice, as I became more interested in the story - just in time for it to end.
The concept had so much potential. I was eager to learn the history of the siege of Masada but I just couldn't connect with the characters, the story didn't hold my attention, and I really didn't learn anything more than already I knew going in - that only a handful of the Jews survived. The story left me depressed. Were I a baby born into this story my crying would not be for milk but a plea to please drown me at birth rather than have me endure the utter hopelessness for females portrayed within this story. Too harsh? Apologies.
In all fairness, I may have enjoyed the story more had I read it rather than listened to the audiobook. With the hardcopy I would have understood the format - that it was divided into four parts told by separate characters. Still, this simply was not the book for me.
About the Author
Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.
After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't — but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.
Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for the New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence — "...so offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces — love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.
Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers — including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).
Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA
Interviews & Other Cool Stuff
NPR Author Interview
November 5, 2011 3:29 PM ET
Heard on All Things Considered | Listen 7:43
"When I was there, I felt so moved and so connected," author Alice Hoffman tells Laura Sullivan, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered.
Hoffman was so struck by the beauty of Masada's rocky terrain, she says, that she chose to make it the backdrop in her new novel, The Dovekeepers.
The Dovekeepers CBS (Trailer Official) TV Mini-Series 2015
Based in Alice Hoffman's historical novel about the Siege of Masada, the miniseries focuses on four extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada.
This TV miniseries stars my favorite actress from NCIS - Cote DePablo! I haven't watched the minisereis yet, and there are loads of mixed reviews. What's you take on it? Did you see it? Did you enjoy it more than or less than the book?
The Siege of Masada (73 AD) - Last Stand of the Great Jewish Revolt
In 73 AD Masada, the impregnable mountain fortress in the Judaean desert, stood as the final holdout against the onslaught of Rome’s legions. The siege that followed would mark the final, bloody suppression of the Jewish revolt with an encounter whose awe inspiring remains can still be seen in the desert today!
Book Club Mojo
Dawn is certainly the hostess with the mostest! She prepared a beautiful, tasty meal of turkey lettuce wraps (recipe coming soon) with plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, cheesecake and of course, wine!
Summer has been so full only one of us was able to finish the book by the time we met. So we discussed it as much as possible without spoilers.
It was fun to discover how different each of our experiences were with the book. Some of our members loved the women characters and the language used to convey their stories. Others were not as fond of the book but we all felt the characters were interesting. Which characters were your favorites?
- The novel is split into four principal parts, with each of the main characters—Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah—narrating one section. Which of these women did you find most appealing, and why? Were you surprised to find you had compassion for characters who were morally complex and often made choices that later caused guilt and sorrow?
- Yael describes her relationship with Ben Simon as “a destroying sort of love” (p. 46). What does she mean by that? Are there other relationships in the novel that could be described in the same way?
- From Yael’s setting free the Romans’ lion, to Shirah’s childhood vision of a fish in the Nile, to the women’s care of the doves, animals are an important component in the book. What did animals mean to the people of this ancient Jewish society, and what specific symbolic forms do they take in the novel?
- The figure of Wynn, “The Man from the North,” who comes to serve the women in the dovecote, is based upon archeological finds at Masada. In what ways does Wynn come to bring the women together? Compare Yael’s relationship with Ben Simon to her relationship with Wynn.
- How do spells function in the novel? What is the relationship between Shirah’s Jewish beliefs and her use of magic? If you have read other Alice Hoffman novels that include mystical elements—such as Practical Magic or Fortune’s Daughter—how do they compare to The Dovekeepers and its use of magic?
- How do Shirah’s daughters react to the intimate friendship that develops between Yael and their mother? Is Shirah a good mother or not?
- What do you make of Channa’s attempt, essentially, to kidnap Yael’s baby Arieh? Is Channa different from the other major female characters in the book? Do you find your opinion of her changes?
- “You don’t fight for peace, sister,” Nahara tells Aziza. “You embrace it.” (p. 343). What do you think of Nahara’s decision to join the Essenes? Is she naïve or a true believer? Do you see similarities between the Essenes and the early Christian movement?
- Why is the Roman Legion preparing to attack the Jews at Masada? From historical references in the book, as well as your own knowledge of history, explain the roots of the conflict. Do you feel the lives of the women in The Dovekeepers echo the lives of women in the modern world who are experiencing war and political unrest?
- Revka’s son-in-law, the warrior known as “The Man from the Valley,” asks Aziza, “Did you not think this is what the world was like?” (p. 378). Describe the circumstances of this question. After all her training for battle, why is Aziza unprepared for the experience of attacking a village filled with women and children?
- In the final pages of the book, Yael sums up those who perished at Masada, remembering them as “men who refused to surrender and women who were ruled by devotion” (p. 478). Do you agree with her description?
- For the women at Masada, dreams contain important messages, ghosts meddle in the lives of the living, and spells can remedy a number of human ills. How does their culture’s acceptance of the mystical compare to our culture’s view on such things today? Do mystical and religious elements overlap? How do they compare to your own views?
- In the note on page 507, Hoffman explains that the historical foundation of her story comes from Josephus, the first-century historian who has written the only account of the massacre. How does knowing that the novel is based on history and archeological findings affect your reading of the book?
- Women’s knowledge in The Dovekeepers is handed down from mother to daughter, sister to sister, friend to friend. Why do you think it is so difficult to know what the lives of ancient women were really like? Do you see any connection with the way in which your own family stories are handed down through the generations?
- Were there any particular quotes that stood out to you? Why?
- Are there any books that you would compare this one to? How does this book hold up to them?
- Have you read any other books by this author?
- Were they comparable to your level of enjoyment to this one?
- What did you learn from, take away from, or get out of this book?
- Did your opinion of the book change as you read it? How?
- Would you recommend this book to a friend?