What Readers Have to Say About A Pigeon and A Boy

Tags: Israel Engagement, Books, History, Arts and Culture, Am Yisrael, Nationalism

By IFF Staff

“And suddenly, above that hell, the fighters saw a pigeon. Born from bulbs of smoke, delivered from shrouds of dust, the pigeon rose, she soared. Above the grunts and the shouts, above the whisper of shrapnel in the chill of the air, above the invisible paths of bullets, above the exploding grenades and the barking rifles and the pounding cannons.” 

Excerpted from A Pigeon and A Boy

Meir Shalev is one of Israel's most beloved novelists. His books, immensely popular not only in Israel but also abroad, have captured the hearts and minds of fans across the globe.

Shalev, born in 1948, was already 40 when he unveiled his first novel, “The Blue Mountain,” to much critical acclaim. This success was followed by a progression of equally impressive books including: “Esau,” “Four Meals,” “Alone in the Desert,” “Fontanelle” and a “A Pigeon and a Boy.”

Meir Shalev

"A Pigeon and A Boy is a love story that paints a picture for us of the intense bonds between parents and children, siblings, life long friends, and romantic love. Shalev deftly guides us on a very human journey and shows us that having a home and people who care about us are a large part of who we are as people," writes Heidi Krizer Daroff in her review of the novel.

Commenting on his own novel, Shalev notes that it isn't necessarily a book taking a stand on history or politics, but rather a book looking into the past, a love story belonging to the previous generation and making a statement with respect to how love takes flight in that time and place:

Here are some thoughts on A Pigeon and A Boy:

The story sounds simple. A middle-aged man, Yair Mendelsohn, discovers the truth about his mother and the man she loved back in 1948, during Israel’s War of Independence. At another level, the novel is about loss and grieving: Yair’s mother has recently died. Yet again it is about truth, and finding one’s own truths. A satisfying read, this book is a multi-level, thoughtful examination of human relationships written in beautiful prose. Is it an amazing love story about Yair’s mother and the Boy? A Jacob and Esau story involving Yair and his brother Benjamin? As one reads the 1948 entries and then the modern entries, as one sees Yair grow as he discovers what truly happened, the novel also becomes a celebration of human determination in near-impossible circumstances. And if you knew nothing about homing pigeons before you read this book, you will finish it a great deal wiser, and full of wonder. Regardless of your taste for book groups, this novel is a stunning read that should be at the top of your wish list.
- Rowan Lindsay

This book is about home. About how your home houses more that your body, but also your soul. Some of us live in the wrong home all of our lives and some of us are lucky to find the perfect fit. It is also about undying, deep, aching, love. And pigeons, yes, you will learn about carrier (homing - get it?!) pigeons. It has moments of beauty and jewels of phrases. Here is one of my favorites: The ground, which here is not corseted with cement and straitjacketed with asphalt, shifts in a slow, never-ending dance, while we - the houses, the trees, the people, the animals - are carried about in its arms, moving on its thin outer crust.
Tamara Silver

A scene from Gesher Theater's staging of 'A Pigeon and a Boy.'

Shalev has deftly layered Yair’s story in such a manner that a refreshingly nuanced picture of Israel emerges…Shalev’s moving portrayal of a long-demoralized man imbued with a newfound joie de vivre, which translator Evan Fallenberg renders into wonderfully fluid English, allows the reader to behold just how ‘things can be fixed. Not only bodies. Souls, too. They can be fixed and mended.'
- Rayyan lL-Shawef

It is hard to do this story justice with a synopsis or a review. The power of the novel is in the crafting of the tale as it unfolds, with the main characters - although beautifully detailed - remaining nameless but for their functions as pigeon handlers. Not so the tour guide, whose life is unraveling before it is put together again with a new love.
- Talia Carner

"Shalev asks us to suspend disbelief and, surprisingly, it is easy to do so because the pigeon symbolizes survival. It is a metaphor for Israel, a tale of wandering far afield but always having the passion to return home - whether you’re human or a winged creature."
- Myrna Lippman

Shalev creates a world that has the richness of invention and the obsessiveness of dreams. He delivers both startling imagery and passionate, original characters whose destinies we follow through love, loss, laughter and death.
- NY Times Book Review

This is an absolutely beautiful story from beginning to end. The prose is gorgeous and captivating, allowing the reader to thoroughly feel the setting and the emotions. The story takes place in two time periods, present day Israel and pre-1948 war Palestine. It isn't clear from the start how the two stories will come together, but I never found it confusing or difficult that two stories were being told. When it does all come together, it is in a very satisfying way. The more modern story involves Yair, a young-ish Israeli man. He tells the story of his childhood, his parents and brother, the small and big things that happen in their lives living in both Tel Aviv and then Jerusalem. The older story takes place mainly on a kibbutz, but also in a few other areas of the country as the young man in the story grows up. The stories involve love and loss, family relationships, and personal growth. It is not primarily a story of Jews and Arabs or of politics. Although in some ways the story could have been set in another country, in some ways it felt very Israeli (I could not describe why, maybe just the personalities), and it made me miss Israel and long to visit again. I highly recommend this book and will look for more books by Meir Shalev.
- Judy

A fine work portraying a formative period in Israel's development as seen through the eyes of a native son conceived in tragedy. Protected throughout his life from the specter, a shadow nonetheless looms and in midlife the protagonist creates his own haven to renew and heal his soul. Shalev is a sensitive craftsman writing with acute sensibilities. I look forward to reading his other works.
- Yosef Gottlieb

A scene from Gesher Theater's staging of 'A Pigeon and a Boy.'

I love this book. I could taste the olives, feel the hot air, hear the distinctive voices of the characters and underneath, feel the cruelty of war and the necessity of belonging. Usually, the books I love are ones I can't put down, but A Pigeon and a Boy was different. I read it slowly and over time. Even with the translation from Hebrew to English the pace and the words were worth savoring.
- Carol Feldman

If I am a soul and I have a body, does a home have a house? What does it mean to always be longing for or trying to come home? Is there such a place? Such a thing? Is life anything but messy? Can a story of a life, or lives, be anything more than beautiful and tragic and horrifying and tender and...? I don't know. I do know I feel lucky to have visited this world for a while. Yair and Tirzah and Yordad and Raya and the Boy and Miriam and Liora and all of them - they are good company.
- Amy Ariel

Shalev’s unusual imagery and figurative language reinforce the connection between Yair and his mother, who dies before his quest has been completed. When Yair assumes that the strange noises in his new home are the result of “a discussion between bricks doomed to live next to one another their whole lives,” it isn’t mere whimsy. His mother, the family mystic, taught him to see “one thousand blue eyes” in a morning glory vine and told him he must always greet his house on his return: “ ‘Say hello to the house, too,’ she would instruct us. ‘And listen closely, because it will answer back.’ ” And so Yair knows that the sounds of its creaky shutters are the sounds of his house “breathing ... expanding, teeming, contracting, enwrapping.”
- Sarah Fay

If you are Israeli, there is a lot here to chew on. He hits on some of the reoccurring issues Israelis have faced since before the establishment of the state. I suppose if you have ever been an immigrant this could resonate with you. Don't read this thinking you'll understand Israel afterwards. This is the insider's view.
- Michal B.

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Tags: Israel Engagement, Books, History, Arts and Culture, Am Yisrael, Nationalism