From the first, it’s apparent that Alice Hoffman has spent time researching this book. She attempts to bring to life the time of Jewish resistance to Roman rule in the first century CE, culminating with the siege on Masada.
She focuses on the women in the community, handpicked by Shirah, the Witch of Moab, to tend the fortress’s doves. Four of the women narrate sections of the novel. Unfortunately, they all sound the same. I love a book that successfully handles multiple narrators, but here it just doesn’t work. A third person narration, with a focus on the four women in turn, probably would have been a better choice.
I did love how she presented a part of early(ish? I’m not a scholar) Judaism that has been pretty well covered up – and had all these rebellious women. I love a good rebellious woman character. Her presentation of the fortress of Masada was really interesting. I never realized it was a retreat for King Herod, and would thus have all the trappings royalty would have demanded. It was pretty cool to think about turning it into a stronghold for rebels.
On the whole, though, I didn’t love the book. Much of it felt overwrought, and it dragged on and on. I mean, it’s set in Masada. I know what’s bound to happen, but I felt like I was reading 450 pages just to get to the action. Still, worth reading for the good parts.
Want more like this? Try:*
- Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra, A Life. While focused on Cleopatra (duh) this book offers a different perspective on her contemporary, Herod, and his desert kingdom.
- Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book. Judaism through time, as illustrated by the travels of an ancient manuscript.
- Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess. I haven’t read this one yet, but I am excited to learn about this aspect of Judasim. I always thought it was a monotheistic religion from its beginning.