Book Review

Book Review of Masada: The Last Fortress, by Gloria Miklowitz

Masada: The Last Fortress

Masada: The Last Fortress

I was looking forward to using Masada as we worked our way through the Awesome History Timeline Schedule but it absolutely fell short of my expectations, although my son enjoyed what I read aloud to him. He gives it 5 stars, while my own personal rating is 2 stars.

Masada is about 17 year old Simon and his friends as they live in the fortress of Masada with a group of Jewish refugees. It's written from Simon's perspective (as well as a Roman generals), as if he wrote his thoughts and observations down in a journal. The story is full of description, so you get a good feel for life in the fortress - little details aren't left out like the flapping of wash in the breeze and women balancing jugs on their heads while getting water from the cistern. I found the writing to feel slightly stilted though. I also felt like the characters were a little bit flat and I never really "cared" for any of them, despite the interesting and emotion laden circumstances.

Besides the conflict between the Jews and the Romans there is also some conflict and tension between Simon and his friend John because they both love the same girl, Deborah. I felt it was over the top for my son's age (he was in 5th grade at the time). An example from the book:

"...heedless of propriety, conscience, reason, and loyalty, I stepped forward now and took her in my arms.
Like a startled dove, she struggled to escape. I brought her close, captured in my embrace, and waited as her first distress became acceptance, surprise, and then wonder. When I kissed her lips, her body, suddenly attentive, sensed mine, and responded to it. Soon my mind no longer listened or functioned. And all I could do was murmur, "Deborah. Deborah I love you."

There is also a mention of camp harlots that I nearly tripped over on our read-aloud (this is during the part of the book from the Roman perspective):

“I will go with you,” he offered, “but nor for your reason. There are more than a few comely women among these prisoners. I should like to see them at their cooking pots. They might prove better companions in the night than the camp harlots I have had.”

I don't think it's a spoiler to also add that there is a mass suicide at the end that younger children/students may find disturbing.

All-in-all I just didn't feel the book was appropriate for my son's age and that we would have been better served to wait and read it when he was older. I stopped reading it to him after chapter 10 with plenty of editing on the fly and then I got rid of it and didn't even save it for later. Besides the items I felt were inappropriate, I also was personally bored by the characters and just couldn't get into the story. It was a drudge to try and read-aloud. We are huge lovers of historical fiction and it's a rarity for me to run into a book that felt as uninteresting as this one. It just didn't click for me.

If you are thinking about handing this over to a younger student, I recommend caution due to some potentially inappropriate content. If you want to read it for yourself or hand it over to an older child, Masada will personalize this famous event in history and is one of the only offerings of its kind for this story that I'm aware of that will help a reader visualize the people, times and circumstances.

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