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Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
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A-A Pigeon and a BoyIn two intertwined stories, one of Israel’s preeminent novelists explores the meaning of love and home in a war-torn nation. In the first tale, set during the period before statehood, a teenage boy (the Baby) and girl (the Girl) become homing pigeon handlers with the Jewish paramilitary and fall in love; during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the wounded Baby sends off one final pigeon to his love. In the present day, middle-aged Yair Mendelsohn, a bird-watching guide, suffers a crisis when he leaves his wife, finds refuge in a decrepit shack "that would heal, and sooth, and build me as I built it," and reconnects with his childhood sweetheart. These two love stories, set decades apart, swoon and connect to form a tapestry of the country many call home.
Schocken Books. 311 pages. $25. ISBN: 0805242511

Gazette (Montreal) 4 of 5 Stars
"Taken together, these two connected narratives reveal the author’s ultimate purpose: to probe the true meaning of home. … [This] novel is somewhat weighed down by earnestness." B. Glen Rotchin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Though the Israeli author Meir Shalev attracts a primarily Jewish readership in the United States, his new novel, translated by Evan Fallenberg, is less concerned with the intricacies of a particular religion than with the question of what any person needs in order to be happy. … By working stories in the present and the past against each other, Shalev brings into question the validity, and the reliability, of memory." Sarah Fay

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"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

Charlotte Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The story unfolds with twists and turns that don’t surprise the reader. … Filled with sadness and joy, grief and passion, Shalev’s novel crosses borders of politics and emotion to bring his readers into a world where something good flies from the jaws of death." Jean Blish Siers

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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 Al-Shawef

Critical Summary

Meir Shalev is one of Israel’s most celebrated novelists. Although less well known in the United States, the critically acclaimed A Pigeon and a Boy, which won Israel’s prestigious Brenner Prize, should introduce Shalev to a much wider audience. Intertwining two love stories with Israel’s fight for independence, the novel offers a compelling portrait of Israel’s period before statehood to the present day. With homing pigeons as a recurring motif, Shalev explores themes of home, memory, and survival—for the birds, a people, and a nation. Despite critics’ overall praise, some faulted the characterizations of Baby and Yair and the obvious connections between the two tales; The Miami Herald noted the absence of any mention of the Palestinians’ Nakba, or "Catastrophe." Few voices, however, capture Israel’s complexities as gracefully as Shalev’s.

Also by the Author

The Blue Mountain (1988): In this novel (a best seller in Israel) told over three generations, Shalev explores the aspirations and realities that early 20th-century Russian Jewish settlers faced in Palestine.