The Dovekeepers

By Alice Hoffman

(Scribner, $27.99, 501 pages)              

Who is this author?

Best-selling writer Alice Hoffman has come a long way since her first novel, “Property Of,” was published in 1977. She’s gone on to write more than 30 works of fiction, including books for young adults and children. Among her best known novels are “Turtle Moon,” “Practical Magic ,” “The River King,” “Blackbird House” and “The Ice Queen.” “Practical Magic,” “The River King” and “Aquamarine” were made into movies.

Hoffman, who lives in Boston, also is a breast cancer survivor and established the Breast Cancer Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge after being treated there.

Her novels are known for incorporating magical realism and often heartbreaking romance into stories of contemporary lives, but her latest, “The Dovekeepers,” reaches far back into ancient times to tell the story of four women at the siege of Masada in Israel.

What is this book about?

The story of Masada, a mountaintop fortress held by some 900 rebellious Jews and their families during their battles with the Romans around the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., is a grim and heroic one. The ancient historian Josephus wrote that the siege lasted for months and when the Jews realized their cause was lost, they killed themselves, with only two women and five children surviving to tell the tale.

Hoffman builds on this story by telling it through the eyes of four women, all of them keepers of doves and all of them fiercely independent, bold and brave. They are Yael, an assassin’s daughter who lost her mother in childbirth and was rejected by her father; Revka, a baker’s wife who brings her mute grandsons to Masada after their mother’s murder;  Aziza, a girl raised as a boy who becomes a warrior; and Shirah, who knows how to practice medicine and perhaps, magic. They meet at Masada, where they interact in its final days, each keeping a powerful secret they fear to share.

Why you’ll like it:

Grounded in ancient history and archeological studies, this novel is a departure for Hoffman and can be read as history as well as historical fiction. She spent five years researching it and made visits to Masada in the process, an experience she calls “intense and moving.”  She credits the women who lived and died there with inspiring her book:

“In telling their story of loss and love, I’ve told my own story as well,” she writes. “After writing for 35 years, after more than 30 works of fiction, I was given the story I was meant to tell.”

What others are saying:

Amazon lists “The Dovekeepers” one of the best books of 2011.

“Alice Hoffman’s “The Dovekeepers” is a splendid entertainment, a harrowing, thrilling, feminist historical novel fueled to fever pitch by a rich imagination… a combination of good writing, affecting themes, and dramatic storytelling. It’s an enthralling tale that lingers in the mind,” says The Boston Globe.

Connecticut author Wally Lamb says:

“In her remarkable new novel, Alice Hoffman holds a mirror to our ancient past as she explores the contemporary themes of sexual desire, women’s solidarity in the face of strife, and the magic that’s quietly present in our day-to-day living. Put The Dovekeepers at the pinnacle of Hoffman’s extraordinary body of work. I was blown away.” 

When is it available?

“The Dovekeepers” is available now at the Hartford Public Library.

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