The author of such iconic bestsellers as Illumination Night, Practical Magic, Fortune’s Daughter, and Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman is one of the most popular and memorable writers of her generation. Now, in The Dovekeepers, Hoffman delivers her most masterful work yet—one that draws on her passion for mythology, magic, and archaeology and her inimitable understanding of women.
In 70 C.D., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom comes 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 lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women 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.
This novel is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece.
The Author of Practical Magic Discusses Her Latest Novel
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Reading Group Guide
Topics & Questions for Discussion
- 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 arch