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.
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.
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.
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.
It was really hard to get through the first 40-50 pages, because the style, place, timeframe, voice direction, subject
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.
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."