My niece, Laura, loaned me a book for a long plane ride I had ahead of me, and it’s probably not a book I would have picked up on my own. But I’m glad it was my traveling companion! It is based on the historical story of the siege of Masada 2000 years ago, where a group of exiled Jews hold out against the Romans in a stronghold built by Herod. In the writings of Josephus, he reports that of the hundreds that lived there, only 4 women and 1 child survived. Intrigued by that fact and by the story told her by her “great-great grandmothers of ancient Israel” when she visited the site, Alice Hoffman crafts a story of 4 women who are dove keepers in the stronghold in 70 years B.C.E.
The story of the 4 women and how their lives intertwine is so compelling, stretching and wrenching that I could feel it in my bones. It is a story for that part of all of us that is fierce, independent and resilient, even if it has not been tested as these women were. The culture of this Jewish exile group taught me much about the repression of women at that time. It’s not a story that surprises, as in many ways, it persists–the idea of women as property, as second class, as not as capable as a man, as feared for their intuition, as objects of sexual desire. And yet the author’s research into the specifics of this arc of history is so detailed and intriguing, while her imagination invoked in the fictional storytelling is lush, raw, tender, and bloody. These women are sensual and jealous lovers, disguised warriors, spell casters, tigress protectors of their offspring and survivors of genocide. I closed the book feeling a stirring of that feminine power and resiliency within me and all women. I loved the story of these four women–and yet wished I could know the real story of the 4 that survived the siege and why. (Published by Scribner’s, 2011.)