Monday, March 22, 2010

A Pigeon and a Boy

CoverA Pigeon and a Boy, by Meir Shalev, is a deeply moving, multi-layered novel which interweaves two love stories and two time periods flawlessly. Like Haruku Murakami, Shalev deals with themes of alienation, the cruelties and indignities of war, and the dark side of humans that can ruin even a paradise. Although the War of Independence is the war depicted in this novel, the enemy is never mentioned by name. The enemy here is man himself, and the cruelties exacted are by the strong against the weak, regardless of the side.

The first love story occurs in the years prior to and during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. “The Girl” and “the Boy,” who have been friends since age 11, are now adolescents in love. They are both members of the Palmach—the unofficial Jewish army established to fight the British in the war. Both are trained to dispatch and care for homing pigeons, used to carry messages back and forth. But the Boy, shot during the last siege, in a final act of love, dispatches the Girl’s pigeon to carry an unusual gift to his beloved.

A parallel love story is between Yair, a tour guide for bird-watching groups, and Tirza, “a contractor who is a woman.” As Yair pieces together the story of the Girl and the Boy, his relationship with Tirza becomes more complicated. 

Shalev uses magical realism in different ways, one of which is to convey the transmigration of the soul. A beautiful image of the soul of the Boy rising to become a bird, a homing pigeon, is created. How man treats this gentle creature gives insight into his state of mind and into his fate. 

A Pigeon and a Boy won the Brenner Prize for Literature, Israel’s highest literary award. Indeed, a country forced into a state of perpetual war would especially value the grace of Shalev’s writing and the implications of this work of magical prose. Its themes resonate long after the last chapter ends.

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