Sat November 5, 2011
A Tale Of Forgiveness From The Tragedy Of Masada
When Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, hundreds of Jews journeyed through the desert and settled in the haven of Masada. In what is now southern Israel, Masada is an old fortress of King Herod's that sits atop an enormous rock plateau surrounded by steep cliffs.
When author Alice Hoffman visited the rocky terrain of Masada she was struck by its beauty and chose to make it the backdrop in her new novel, The Dovekeepers.
"When I was there, I felt so moved and so connected," she tells Laura Sullivan, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered.
A Tragic Tale
When Hoffman returned home to Boston, she began to read about Masada and learned that only two women and five children survived when the Romans laid siege there in 72 A.D. Before the Romans could break through their defenses, the community killed itself.
"As soon as I heard that, I felt that I'd found my novel," she says.
Hoffman has written almost 30 novels — and many have been compared to modern-day fairy tales. The Dovekeepers is her first foray into fiction with a historic backdrop. The book follows four women and their fight to survive after the fall of Jerusalem.
"Many of the things in the book are artifacts that are found in the Masada museum," Hoffmain points out. For instance, there's a tartan plaid fabric that belongs to one of the characters. "When I saw the artifacts that belonged to the real people who lived there, you know the makeup, the makeup palettes, the amulets, the shoes, it really felt alive to me."
All the main characters in The Dovekeepers are strong women. One of them, Revka, is a baker's wife who saw her daughter murdered and was left to care for her grandchildren. Hoffman says it was difficult to write about the violence and the trauma, but she knew it was a fundamental part of the story.
"Beginning a book about Masada was the first time I knew, in a way, what the ending would be," Hoffman says. "I knew 900 Jews would commit mass suicide, and, for me, I had to find the hope within that."
The inside story, Hoffman says, is one about forgiveness. Although each of the women in her novel have been hurt, they all find some sort of solace in Masada.