In which voiceless characters keep me from fully connecting with an intriguing premise
Title: The Dovekeepers
Author: Alice Hoffman
What it’s about: When the Romans invade Israel, no place is safe for the Jewish people. Not Jerusalem, where their Temple is toppled to the ground, and not any town or village along the way, where the people are burned out of their houses, forced to flee or be killed or enslaved. There is only one place left to flee, a Zealot fortress in the desert that was once Herod’s palace, his last retreat and defense, a complex built to last a siege and protect its residents. The survivors now place their hope in this stronghold and their small army of boys and men who roam the desert in search of supplies and Roman raiders. But a feeling of dread hangs over the fortress. Its inhabitants know they are only waiting for the Romans to arrive, for the final test of their strength and their faith.
To this place come four women and each is called to work in the dovecotes. Yael crossed the desert with two assassins—her father and the man who became the love of her life. Unfortunately, this man also traveled with his wife and children. Always treated like a dog by her father, she finds a lion within herself when she meets her love and despite her guilt she cannot give up her newfound joy. Revka’s journey is one of loss, as both her husband and daughter are killed before reaching safety. Her son-in-law becomes a different man, leaving her scarred grandchildren in her care. Both boys have lost the power to speak after the horrors they’ve seen. Revka lives to care for them and to restore their voices if possible. Shirah is the only one to cross the desert with purpose, not fleeing the Romans, but seeking her long-lost love. Now she shares her gift of magic and wisdom with the troubled and bereft in the fortress. She brings her daughter Aziza, a girl drawn to men not for their love, but for their freedom and abilities. Together, these four women must find a way to survive.
Though the premise of this book sounds great, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. The historical context is rich and the characters are unique and interesting, but this book had one major flaw that kept me from getting immersed. It wasn’t in the plot—it was in the writing. Hoffman uses extremely minimal dialogue. Whole chapters seem to go by without any sign of quotation marks and often conversations are summarized rather than shown. As a result, I found the characters understandably rather voiceless. I realized that dialogue is incredibly important to my enjoyment of a book.
Would I recommend? Some people might not feel as strongly about dialogue as I do, and if so, you might enjoy this book. But if you need to hear the voices of the characters to get caught up in their struggle, this isn’t for you.