A Pigeon and a Boy

by Meir Shalev

Other authorsEvan Fallenberg
Book, 2007



Call number




New York : Schocken Books, 2007.


During the 1948 War of Independence--a time when pigeons are still used to deliver battlefield messages--a gifted young pigeon handler is mortally wounded. In the moments before his death, he dispatches one last pigeon, carrying his extraordinary gift to the girl he has loved since adolescence. Intertwined with this story is the contemporary tale of Yair Mendelsohn, who has his own legacy from the 1948 war. Yair is a tour guide specializing in bird-watching trips who, in middle age, falls in love again with a childhood girlfriend.

User reviews

LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
I hesitate to write about this novel. This author, a favorite of mine, who so aptly describes Israeli characters created a flawed book. I felt let down at the end of the book, not only by the actions of Yair Mendelsohn, a married man building his own house far from his wife, but also because I
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didn't find the critical part of the story believable and could not understand why the author chose to end his book as he did.

Going back to the very beginning of the story (an odd way to relive a novel, I suppose), I was overcome with sadness to learn that Baby, a character I did love, was going to die. He died over and over again for me, not in reality, but in the author presenting his imminent death every so often in the story. That was so painful.

There was, however, a lyrical and beautiful part to this book. As always in stories by Meir Shalev, it’s the land, its animals, and the entire environment as only he describes them that fill me with ecstasy. In this case, I was intrigued by pigeons. These were the homing pigeons used by the Palmach (an early version of the Israeli Defense Force) to bring messages from soldiers in distant outposts. Baby and the Girl, two young people beginning to feel the yearnings of love but living quite a distance from each other, were responsible for raising and training those pigeons. Through those birds, I found the part of Shalev’s book I was seeking. “A pigeon has to love her home otherwise she won't want to return to it”. I will be back for more.
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LibraryThing member cushlareads
This book won Israel's Brenner Prize for fiction. Its author, Meir Shalev, is internationally acclaimed but I'd never heard of him till I found this book at the library with a "Reader's Choice" sticker. I'm so glad I picked it up, and recommend it highly, although the first 50-100 pages were slow
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going. The beautiful writing and the detailed characterisation kept me from sending it back. It was translated from Hebrew into English by Evan Fallenberg, but it was hard to guess that it had been, although there were a couple of places (jokes about pigeons, I think) where it would have been good to read the original.

A Pigeon and a Boy is a double love story. Yair Mendelsohn is a tour guide who takes bird-watchers around Israel. He tells his life story, set in present-day Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He's unhappily married to Liora. Yair's Dad (called Yordad - the first of several jokes) was a pediatrician, and he features prominently. Yair was very close to his mother, and a lot of the book is told to her. Then there's Ben, his brother, his wife and their twin boys, and the Meshulam family. By the end of the book, it's as if you've met them all. Yair's mother gives him money when she is very sick and old, and tells him to build a house for himself. Eventually, he does, and there are some very funny scenes that reminded me of an un-schmaltzy Under the Tuscan Sun. The second story, also narrated by Yair, is about the Baby, a pigeon handler who lived on a kibbutz and fought in the 1948 war with Egypt, and the Girl, a pigeon handler at the zoo in Tel Aviv. I learnt lots about homing pigeons, and birds. There was a bit of magical realism, which usually makes me close a book at once, but luckily it was near the end and it was almost believable...

Shalev's characters are really well developed, all of them. There was a lot of Israel in the book, and I loved that - lots of detail about how it had changed from the first kibbutzes until now, but no overt politics. Shalev apparently writes a weekly column for one of the Israeli papers, and I might have a look. I'll definitely be looking for his other books, especially The Blue Mountain.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Having read Shalev's beautiful novel, The Blue Mountain, I was eager to see if A Pigeon and a Boy was as gorgeously rendered as that one was. I have to say that I still find the other more enticing but this has an appealing dream-like cast to it. Two different stories that converge in the
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narrative, the story opens with a rich American, former member of the Palmach telling of the death of a boy and his symbolic release of a final homing pigeon as he dies in battle to the other tour members and Yair, their Israeli tour guide. From this point onward, the narrative splits into the stories of Yair's life and that of Baby, the young homing pigeon handler who died so many years ago in the fighting. But as the stories diverge, so they must, in the end, converge again. Both stories center on love and its loss: man-woman, mother-son, and friend-friend. Shalev draws Israel before Independence with minute strokes, describing the place and everything in it with a detailed richness that sometimes threatens to overwhelm the reader. His characters are lost and found again in love drawing understanding sympathies from the reader. The tragedies and betrayals, both physical and emotional, that play out in the novel are piercing and yet there is still ultimately a redemptive feel to the novel as a whole: the past melts seamlessly into the present and the present can be made right. I found it initially hard to sink into the book fully but once I made that effort, I was rewarded by a stunning book; one that will stay with me for a long time.
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LibraryThing member kbaugues77
This was an excellent book. I loved the storytelling of Meir Shalev. His writing put you in the places he was describing. An excellent story about home. The story is divided into two separate stories that weave together in an interesting and creative fashion in the end. The first story is about a
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boy who discovers his love for pigeon handling and his love for a girl. The second story is about a middle-aged man trying to find happiness. This is one of my favorite books.
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LibraryThing member Lillian3
Wonderful writing. One of many lines I liked: "... the flock of words that soar about at all times in people's minds, without any order or discipline, suddenly arranged itself in his head into the structure of a sentence. And that sentence whispered itself to him; that in the future these two would
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be bound in love. Just like that."
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
Well-written story of 2 different love stories that the reader knows are connected. Not an easy read, and I still have to think about some of the events, but a rewarding book filled with much truth. A little magic realism, but that was not off-putting, as I frequently find.
LibraryThing member ShaiShap
I gave it a very low rating, but it's not really the book's fault. I'm just not the target audience for it. It's generally well-written, I just didn't see anything unusual to be interested in. Things happen, people live their lives, and not much else. Also, I felt like the ending was a little too
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If you're like me and prefer speculative fiction, or complex stories full of surprises and occurrences, this is probably not a book for you.
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LibraryThing member break
I will not bother writing down the story line, because you can get that from many sources. Instead let me share my personal experience reading this book and some minor observations.
It was really hard to get through the first 40-50 pages, because the style, place, timeframe, voice direction, subject
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changed so often that it was hard to piece together what's going on. But I committed myself to reading the whole book for my bookclub so I forced myself to do it. Now, that I finished it I am happy I did. Once all the perspectives became clear it became much easier to follow and found the reading rather rewarding. It is a rich story, rich in plot elements, biblical parallels, ethical questions, fantastic descriptions.
When I got to page 69 I knew that I found the core theme of the book in this sentence, "A pigeon has to love her home otherwise she won't want to return to it." The whole book is about exploring what home is and how one gets there. For some people is the person they want to spend their lives with. At our book club discussion it was suggested that for Jews home is a temporal and not spatial concept,. This notion is based on Heschel's description of the Sabbath as a "cathedral in time". But since (and even before) the founding of the modern state of Israel, the land itself can contain a home and for the protagonist a certain house became the home he always missed earlier.
I really enjoyed the "ten characteristics of a good pigeon handler" from page 116, including the importance of being moderate, loyal, responsible, kindhearted, patient, devoted, tidy, strong-willed, sensitive, industrious, considerate, and adept at learning. All of these are important values for any human and this list was the closest I ever found to a secular "ten commandments."
Some people will be faster in figuring out to whom the main characters tells the story. I got my first hunch only halfway through the story. And I only worked out the secret of the important, but hidden relationship around page 200 out of 300. In this regard it was a good mystery novel, where I had to keep guessing. The question was not exactly the usual "whodunnit", but more like "whodunnitwithwhom." Then it was satisfying to get my suspicion confirmed later on.
If you are not prudish about the explicit sex scenes, showing up in the last third of the book, I recommend to work through the beginning of the book. You will be rewarded with many open questions and even more answers than you may want.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
On many levels, this is really a lyrical, poetic read - and well worth the time to sink into. Mr. Shalev is a wonderful writer and the translation is superb. I found the emersion into Israeli culture (both modern and Isreal's war of independence) fascinating, especially the descriptions of the
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lanscapes, trees and birds. The carrier pigeon stories are also fascinating and rarely written about in fiction. The characters are very real. However, I thought this novel dragged a bit in the last quarter. Yair is kind of a frustrating man, so apathetic most of the time, so it gets a bit tedious to read about him and his life. The rest of the characters carry the day though, down to even Yair's new quirky neighbors. The plot is quite far-fetched, but I looked at it more as a fable than reality. Overall, very recommended if you want to be completely transported to another time and very beautiful place.
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LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
loved loved loved this beautiful double love story. i can't believe it took me so long to pull this one off the TBR piles but so glad it survived all the purges of the past few years. set in israel and covering two timelines, it's the story of two pigeon handlers, and of a young man, his parents
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and another family linked to his through an act of love and compassion. the twist was somewhat predictable but that didn't make it any less of a revelation.
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LibraryThing member evatkaplan
a boy who loves pigeons and is a pigeon handler falls in love with a girl. In 1948, Israel's War of Independence, a talented pigeon handler sends one last message to his love, before he dies. In the following generation, once again, a love story/. "pigeons always return home."
LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
loved loved loved this beautiful double love story. i can't believe it took me so long to pull this one off the TBR piles but so glad it survived all the purges of the past few years. set in israel and covering two timelines, it's the story of two pigeon handlers, and of a young man, his parents
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and another family linked to his through an act of love and compassion. the twist was somewhat predictable but that didn't make it any less of a revelation.
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LibraryThing member MarkMeg
Enjoyed very much.
LibraryThing member -Eva-
This is an absolutely marvelous love-story, which brings the readers on a magic ride through real life with all its innate turbulence. With the slight (almost imperceptible) hints of magic realism, Shalev keeps the readers on their toes as this wondrous tale develops. The two tales, one about
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homing pigeons and one about Yair's urge for a home of his own, are seamlessly woven together. Even before the revelation at the end (which explains the two stories' actual connection), their mutual themes are evident - the love of one's home and, indeed, the love and acceptance of oneself is at the very core here. One can of course draw various parallels to the political climate of the country and the Israeli people, but the story doesn't need such obvious links - it works well on its own. It's well worth pointing out that thanks to Evan Fallenberg's amazing talent as a translator, Shalev's poetic language transfers very well into English.
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LibraryThing member daphnat
Amazing and exciting story. Together with "רומן רוסי" and "כימים אחדים" my favorite books ever.

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