To read The Dovekeepers is like living the poetry of a lost time. Immaculately researched, vivid, lyrical, and just plain amazing, this novel is almost undescribable in its breadth, scope, and imagination.
I was sent The Dovekeepers by Simon & Schuster. They told me it would be the next great book of the year. But, they had me at ‘hello’ when I heard it was a historical novel about Israel. I love to read books about the history and culture of ‘my people’ (I’m Jewish). One of my favourite books is The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, which focuses on the stories of the women of the bible. The Dovekeepers takes place somewhat later, in post-biblical times, and explores the time as a completely different world than we’ve ever read about about before. The way its written seems to allows Walker entry into a world of a genre-free novel (The Dovekeepers could fit as historical fiction, fantasy, magic, women’s literature, religious literature, poetic fiction… )
Set in 70 C.E. during the Roman destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem, and the subsequent siege of 900 men, women and children on top of Herod’s Mountain of Masada, Alice Walker brings to life the interconnected experiences of four women-The eponymous Dove keepers. Fashioned after sketchy accounts of two women and five children who survived the attack on the final holdouts during Rome’s occupation of Jerusalem and Judea, Walker has created a world of magic, myths, love, mystery, violence, compassion, and adventure.
We first meet Yael, who was raised in a home without the basest affections by her father who never moved past the death of her mother in childbirth. The voice moves to Revka, an old woman who has lost nearly everything, then Aziza, a young woman raised as a warrior, and finally, Shirah, the Witch of Moab, who is the string that binds these women together.
The Dovekeepers was one of the first times I wanted to tell the whole story in a review. The Dovekeepers was one of the first times I wanted to quote excerpts in a review. But I’m not going to do any of that. I won’t ruin the unpeeling of the layers for you. What I will say that there are incredible images, wonderful connections, and threads of thematic symbolism that are so consistently deep, yet visibly interpretable on the surface, you won’t struggle to decode them. However, when you re-read the book, if that’s your thing, you’ll discover more meaning each and every time.
My son’s Bar-Mitzvah will be at Masada in one year, and thanks to Alice Walker, I will view the landscapes of Israel, and the majesty of Masada through a completely different lens.
Unputdownable Factor: 8/10 (it can be a bit deep; sometimes you need a rest from the intensity)
Recommend Factor: 10/10