2.9#5 Book

Book: The Dovekeepers

Author: by Alice Hoffman.

The novel “The Dove keepers,” written by Alice Hoffman is a fictional story based on the historical events of a siege, by the Roman armies, on a mountain in the Judean Desert, Masada in 70 C.E. From this attack two women and five children survived out of the nine hundred Jews that lived in the fortress. The story follows four women Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah. We learn from each of these women, their tragedies and triumphs show the readers certain themes that can be seen reflected in real life, or as something that can be taken away to then reflect on. To me some of the more important themes portrayed in the text were, the forcing of maturation of young children in the face of trauma, the place of a woman and her limitations in an oppressive society, and how rebellion of faith lead the women to survive under their circumstances.

Yael, our first story,  is the daughter of an assassin. She killed her mother during childbirth, an act her father resents her for. Her family is forced to travel into the desert due to her home town being overrun by Roman troops. In the desert Yael losses herself, “My girlhood disappeared in the desert. The person I had once been vanished.”  This line shows how she has been forced to mature too soon and how all that she has her belongings, family and her own conflicted soul has been stripped away by the wind, sun and horrific situation. Yael’s journey from timid girl to strong women I thought taught the reader how horrible things can affect us, and how we can grow stronger from them; another example of this is Ellie from “Tomorrow when the war began” who starts off as a regular teenager before she is forced to mature quickly and adapt to her new and life threatening situation. Ellie due to a war appearing on her doorstep, so to speak, she has to take on responsibilities and face grim realities of death and hardships that most would never dream for a child to experience. Much like Yael, Ellie grows, a woman forged from her trauma, stronger but most likely very broken inside. Both cases in the text show the readers the effects that trauma and war can have on children/young adults, people who until this experience have been treated with care and consideration to how they will process each obstacle that comes before them. As we can see in our characters experience, she  is broken completely. Then she dusts herself off and carries on, due to will and grit that she has had to take on; losing her last remnants of adolescents with it. These images are reflected in our own media. In war torn countries, young women and children are often left behind by the men to fight or are the survivors of the ordeals they have faced. Although these adolescents make it out alive, they leave behind memories of a better time with whole families and easy times behind. The way these children deal with this pain can be read through the character of Yael, showing her audience the lasting effects that linger well into adulthood.

The story of Aziza is written to show more of her inner struggle between what she has been brought up as, and now who she is expected to be. Aziza was brought up as a first born son when her mother could not bear one, but when her new younger brother takes her place she is forced back into the ways of the women of her tribe. She is a proud soldier, competent in combat and horse riding due to training in her youth. Aziza’s story, symbolises the struggle women have had throughout history trying to gain equality with men within their societies. This quote here, “Weapons are kept from women, but such a naming suggests that perhaps men fear our talents in war as well as our desire for peace,” showing how Aziza herself knows her competence for the task she is banned to perform. This is an example of how competent women in the workplace of our modern day societies are passed over for jobs, which are then given to men purely due to old ideas; also how jobs allocated to women are deemed as less heroic or enduring, whether it’s charging into battle or as a nurse opposed to being a doctor. Aziza, much like the character Mulan from the disney movie of the same name, transforms herself into a man in order to be put onto the battlefield where she is most useful and knows her skills are necessary; her being there saves the lives of many of her fellow soldiers. Aziza much like many women still are today, is trapped in an identity that was given to her based off religious upbringing and the condemning of women as leaders in societies. I as the reader ultimately learnt through Aziza how sometimes breaking faith and rule is necessary in order to take a place in a society that won’t accept me for a profession until proven otherwise. “Perhaps that meant a woman who was well trained in arms would be the superior warrior, her attention never wavering from her task.”

Another aspect of the book that was particularly interesting to me was the relationship the main characters had to their faith. Religion, in the text, was an all consuming aspect of people’s everyday lives, and as it was the early Judean faith, women were very restricted in what they could do. Yael betrays her faith multiple times, but believes that because of her first sin at birth, her other sins do not matter to their God, whom she believes has already condemned her. Aziza also betrays her faith but only to help her people by using her skills even when they are considered a sin. Revka blames God for what has happen to her family, but cannot turn her back on him, she is hopeful yet for a miracle. Shirah has already been condemned as she is a witch, a woman who has left God and men for her own dark ways, but still she prays for her children and her loved ones, who have not come to be sinners as of yet. The characters are rebellious in their ways by disregarding traditional religious laws to protect themselves and their loved ones, but they never completely abandon their faith. The author uses symbolism throughout the novel; an example of this is the doves the women care for. The doves, in this religion, symbolise femininity and procreation, and example of the women themselves. However in the actual novel the doves are killed by Yael for her own survival, this could symbolise how her femininity has ‘died’ as she is the most untamed of all the women. Also the women defy the rules again by setting free the doves at the end of the story allowing them to fly free, instead of being caught up in the ensuing mass suicide. “We breathed in the bones of our people- their desires, their petty differences, their faith- all martyred, vanishing into the dusky murderous air,” this line shows how the others from the fortress have given themselves up to their God through a mass suicide, and shows the reader how once again the women have rebelled by surviving. The audience can see even more clearly how the women are willing to do anything to protect the people they care about no matter the consequence for themselves by man or by God.

”The Dove keepers,” by Alice Hoffman is I think is poetically written novel, set to teach lessons and inform readers on the horrific events that shape our history and maybe the things we can learn from them. We learn all of this through women who have experienced these things in a trying situation. As an audience I learnt about the cultural and historical significance of the siege of Masada, and how it came to be. The themes discussed are apparent throughout the novel, fundamentally I believe the story is a history lesson on rebellion of faith, female identity and the effects that war harbours.  


Respond now!