Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers is a beautiful and powerful historical novel which I’ve been meaning to get to for some time. It deals with a period in history which fascinates me and which I haven’t read much about — the last stand of the nine hundred Jews at Masada who killed themselves rather than be captured by the Romans. And it tells the story through the eyes of a group of strong and interesting women.
That said, I will admit it took me a long time, much longer that I would have expected, to get into this book. For much of the first section, I kept putting it down and wandering off to read other things, and I wasn’t truly hooked till about 2/3 of the way through, when the inevitable ending drew nearer and I was curious to know how Hoffman would handle it and how the characters she had created would fare in the end. From that point on I couldn’t put it down, but even though it’s extremely well-written, there were far too many points earlier in the book where I was prepared to lay it aside for days.
It’s hard to pinpoint just what went wrong for me in the early parts of the novel, because each of the four characters is interesting and has a compelling backstory that brings her to Masada. It might have something to do with voice — Hoffman is certainly a very skilled writer, but the writing is that kind of “literary fiction” voice that often sounds remote and stilted and too in love with its own beauty, thus distancing some readers (me) from the characters. And this voice remained unchanged throughout the book, even though four different characters were allegedly telling their stories. The women are all very different, but their voices all sound like the authorial voice, which may be another reason why it was harder for me to get engaged with them.
Despite these problems — which might not even be problems for some readers — this is a very well-researched book that brings to life an intriguing historical tragedy. It’s well worth reading … and if you, like me, find it a slow start, keep going!