Apr 22, 12
Read from January 18 to February 04, 2012
Alice Hoffman has written a book tracing the lives of four women who took care of the Doves at Masada. Briefly, Shahir, an outcast, is the Witch of Moab, Revka has committed murder, Yael is pregnant with a child from another woman’s husband and Aziza, daughter of Shahir, is a warrior who was raised as a male child for part of her life. They have each sinned, in their own way. There are five parts to the book. Four of the parts are devoted to each of the women and from those we learn what led the women to behave as they did and how they were led to Masada. We meet the characters influencing and interacting with them through their lives. The final part is the surprising conclusion.
This book was disappointing because I approached it as a well researched historic novel, and I felt that in that genre, it failed. Most of the book is based on the writings of Josephus. He is known to be a liar, according to a comment made by the author at one of her interviews, which I attended. Reading the novel, I felt that it stretched the facts and created a scenario that was hard to accept as historic fiction and would do better being marketed simply as fiction, a story made up out of whole cloth, about the events that took place between 70CE and 73CE, the time that Jews occupied Masada, rather than asserting that the facts are accurate. Many of those facts are actually being examined and questioned today, and many of the scenes and events the author described seemed very far fetched to a point where I had to suspend disbelief to continue reading.
In addition, the book seemed repetitious and a bit disorganized, becoming tedious at times. I think, perhaps, it was too large a task to create a story about an event for which there is no accurate documentation. The magic and spells sometimes seemed silly, like when the term Abra K’dabra is used to invoke a spell. In the world of today, that simply brings hocus-pocus to mind and it made me almost give up reading further, but I plodded on. The book exposes the abuses and cruelty to which the Jews were subjected but it also showed that they behaved almost as badly. The logic ascribed to the Jews defending Masada, when they also engage in murder and pillage, makes no sense. They even preyed on those that were not a threat to them because they believed that they must, in order for them to survive. Why was it not necessary for those they murdered to survive, as well? Who decided that they had to eat before the others? It did not paint a pretty picture of Masada's inhabitants. The women were loose, the men murdered without compunction and robbed those weaker than they were, simply to take care of their own. They seemed selfish and their way of life left a lot to be desired. The one positive is that they were loyal to a fault to those they loved, but over all, I thought they were portrayed negatively as villains, assassins, thieves, witches, low-lifes, women with loose morals, kidnappers, etc.
Their behavior was on a par with the Romans whom they felt were monsters, who murdered, raped and pillaged their people, with abandon. The decision to take no slaves because their religion forbid them to enslave others, defied logic, when instead they murdered everyone, women and children alike. Something about the story did not feel right to me, hence my disappointment.
As a book that doesn't pretend to be more than a fantasy, a beach read, it might be good to take on vacation. As a no-brainer, it might work quite well, but if this is supposed to represent the truth, it goes against everything I have learned about the legend of Masada and portrays the Jews more negatively than I ever would have imagined. I gave it three stars because the author's fans might like it and because the author is well known and writes well; but this is not her greatest work. It is confusing, contrived, and way too long.