Saturday, November 19, 2011

Faith, Truth, and Silence in the Desert

Currently Reading: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, The Orphan Sister by Gwendolen Gross, and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
(Diverse- yes. Awesome- always.)

Scene: a settlement of hundreds of Jewish refugees in an ancient fortress on an isolated mountain, surrounded by a hostile desert and an ever-growing, all-consuming Roman world. The year is 70 C.E. and this is Masada, the last Jewish stronghold against a Roman army and a Roman empire that seeks to destroy it. Those within Masada are a diverse group of men, women, and children, flung from all ends of the Judean world, fleeing the Romans and fleeing their past. This is the stage setting for The Dovekeepers, a powerful and unbelievably riveting book by Alice Hoffman. Here, Hoffman re-imagines a true historical event and infuses it with realistic characters and deep insight. This is the third of Hoffman's many novels that I have read and so far I have not been disappointed. (Now there is a Christmas-morning giggle of excitement in my stomach thinking of her other books that are just waiting for me to knock upon their doors).

My favorite thing about reading is when I chance upon a novel that pulls me into it with both hands, willing my eyes to the page, whispering with the strength of a yell, "You must read this! There is so much to find here. You will walk away changed."

The Dovekeepers. Doves are synonymous with peace, an irony in this book, in a world broken by strife and hate. It is fitting then, that the women assigned to work in the fortress' dovecotes are all struggling to recreate a life for themselves from the ashes of their past. Hoffman wrote the book in four sections- each one narrated by a different woman. I loved to hear their voices, witness their strength, watch them try to rebuild their lives so far removed from the ones they had known before Rome destroyed their homes and their futures.

There is nothing I did not love about this work. I loved the interpretation of an event and a past that we have never seen and do not recognize but which still relates to us, fervently reminding us that we are not so different from those who walked this earth long before us. I loved the many themes that wound over and under each sentence, infusing the pages with their presence and their strength, their mystery. The beauty and necessity of silence. Shadows and secrets. Questions of and struggles with God's will, fate, faith. Each of these themes surface differently in the lives of each woman, changing them in many ways and leaving lasting impressions upon my own thoughts.

My favorite quote from The Dovekeepers is, "But now I understood that, although words were God's first creation, silence was closer to His divine spirit, and that prayers given in silence were infinitely greater than the thousands of words men might offer up to heaven." Faith can grow in silence. Truth can be found in the shadows. Secrets can bind us together, as well as pull us apart. There is always something to learn about ourselves and the path before us. We only have to be brave enough to face Truth, in all of its forms, before we can become the person we want to be. Check out The Dovekeepers if you can; you won't be disappointed. Have a wonderful weekend!

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