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The Dovekeepers    by Alice Hoffman order for
by Alice Hoffman
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

With the inscription 'Let my burden be your burden, and yours be mine,' Alice Hoffman begins a moving tale of the massacre at Masada in 70 CE, when the Jews, rather than submit to the Roman Legion, killed each other so that none were left when the Romans scaled their walls.

According to one historian, two women and five children survived, and Hoffman tells how this came about through the eyes of four unique women. We first meet Yael, whose mother died at her birth and whose father never forgave her. Revka is the wife of a baker, who had to watch her daughter being brutally murdered, and in whose care her mute grandsons watch their distant father ignore them. Aziza, daughter of a warrior, can't help preferring horses and weapons over sewing and cooking, even though she must disguise herself to do so. Shirah, her mother, practices medicine and forbidden magic, but she must be careful because people think she is a witch.

As each woman tells her story we also learn about what led these 900 Jews to Masada and how they lived in what was formerly Herod's retreat. At first the fortress, which seems impenetrable, prospers. With the arrival of the Roman Legion, things change and over time Masada is both isolated and surrounded. When, at the end, it is clear that their stronghold will be penetrated, their agonized response is the only course that gives them the freedom not to have their men killed, their women raped and their children sold into slavery.

The story of a fierce and brutal people who will not be vanquished plays out in the actions of these independent women who have many secrets and great loves but who end up trusting and caring for each other. Even though the women's voices do not have much differentiation, you will savor and be haunted by the tale.

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