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Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Dovekeepers

There is only one ancient source on the story of the Jewish Uprising culminating in the stand at the fortress of Masada. Its veracity has been questioned by recent archaeological evidence. Still the story, whether entirely true or not, is an inspiring one. Novelist Alice Hoffman in The Dovekeepers tells the story from a feminist perspective. Hoffman is a prolific author whose books are both widely loved and frequently damned. Mix feminism with frequent doses of mysticism and controversy may be the result.
The Dovekeepers follows four very different women from the second destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to the final suicide at the fortress of Masada. There a disparate group of men and women chose death over slavery. Strong stuff indeed. ( A view across the desert of the Dead Sea from the fortress of Masada).


I found the book much too long at points. This is because some the points of the beautifully evocative writing are repeated endlessly, losing their power in the process. Also because this fact oriented former history teacher wants his historical fiction to be believable.... mixing in a lot of dreams, visions and confusing allusions doesn’t work for me. That's a shame, because so much else about this novel is very good, from the characterization to the contrast between the shabby, hungry refugees and the magnificence of Herod's abandoned palace at Masada.

On a personal note, speaking of deserts, we'll be heading off soon to Arizona to visit the grandchildren for the holidays. Wishing all my blogging friends the best. See you in 2012.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Destiny of the Republic



He was born in poverty, in a log cabin, on the American frontier. Through hard work, and a wonderful ability to educate himself, courage and an expansive personality he rose to be President of the United States. No. No. It wasn’t Abe. His name was James Garfield. He was from Ohio and was our second president to be assassinated.
Candace Millard has written a wonderful description of an aspect of the age which saw the transition from the end of Reconstruction to modern America. Her book Destiny of the Republic - A Story of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President tells the story of a little known President, cut off like John Kennedy, in the prime of his life. It was a time of great corruption in government, "robber barons" and the solidification of segregation as part of southern institutions and thinking.
The most interesting part of the book is the story of how a man shot in the back with what should have been non mortal wounds was basically killed by his doctors.
Over a period of about 11 weeks the President was repeatedly probed into his wounds with unsterilized fingers and instruments as the doctors tried to find the bullet lodged in his body. This all at a time when the world famous French doctor, Joseph Lister, had been demonstrating for years how his theories on the prevention of infection could save lives and limbs. The famous American inventor, Alexander Graham Bell also worked furiously to develop a machine which could locate the bullet. All to no avail.
Millard, whose previous book The River of Doubt was about Theodore Roosevelt’s near-fatal journey of exploration in South America, is again perfect in bring these people and events to life. This book of narrative history ranks right up there with others like The Devil in the White City as a classic of its type. I highly recommend it.