Hoffman (The Red Garden, 2011, etc.) births literature from tragedy: the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple, the siege of Masada and the loss of Zion.
This is a feminist tale, a story of strong, intelligent women wedded to destiny by love and sacrifice. Told in four parts, the first comes from Yael, daughter of Yosef bar Elhanan, a Sicarii Zealot assassin, rejected by her father because of her mother's death in childbirth. It is 70 CE, and the Temple is destroyed. Yael, her father, and another Sicarii assassin, Jachim ben Simon, and his family flee Jerusalem. Hoffman's research renders the ancient world real as the group treks into Judea's desert, where they encounter Essenes, search for sustenance and burn under the sun. There too Jachim and Yael begin a tragic love affair. At Masada, Yael is sent to work in the dovecote, gathering eggs and fertilizer. She meets Shirah, her daughters, and Revka, who narrates part two. Revka's husband was killed when Romans sacked their village. Later, her daughter was murdered. At Masada, caring for grandsons turned mute by tragedy, Revka worries over her scholarly son-in-law, Yoav, now consumed by vengeance. Aziza, daughter of Shirah, carries the story onward. Born out of wedlock, Aziza grew up in Moab, among the people of the blue tunic. Her passion and curse is that she was raised as a warrior by her foster father. In part four, Shirah tells of her Alexandrian youth, the cherished daughter of a consort of the high priests. Shirah is a keshaphim, a woman of amulets, spells and medicine, and a woman connected to Shechinah, the feminine aspect of God. The women are irretrievably bound to Eleazar ben Ya'ir, Masada's charismatic leader; Amram, Yael's brother; and Yoav, Aziza's companion and protector in battle. The plot is intriguingly complex, with only a single element unresolved.
An enthralling tale rendered with consummate literary skill.