In this stunning tale, Shalev masterfully interweaves two remarkable personal stories. Yair Mendelsohn, a middle-aged Israeli tour guide favored with bird watchers, learns that one of his new American clients fought in the Palmach, a clandestine military force in Israel's 1948 war of independence. The American recounts a day when a homing pigeon handler, nicknamed "the Baby" for his childlike features, was killed in that war and, in his final moments, sent off one last pigeon. Yair is familiar with the American's story and listens with wistfulness. As Yair slowly tells of his present and his past, Shalev patiently builds tension around the Baby's final dispatch, giving vivid detail on homing pigeons and conveying the unique relationship between the birds and their keepers-which echoes the touching care with which the Baby and his true love, "the Girl," treat one another. The dark, stocky Yair, whose marriage is threatened by his burgeoning relationship with childhood friend Tirzah, makes a sympathetic protagonist. This gem of a story about the power of love, which won Israel's Brenner Prize, brims with luminous originality. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Images of home in its many guises permeate Israeli novelist Shalev's latest work to be translated into English, following Blue Mountain, The Loves of Judith, and Esau. With the land of Israel in the background and frequently the foreground, the intertwined stories introduce two teenage handlers of messenger homing pigeons whose love blooms in the 1940s through the War of Independence and the battle for Jerusalem, as well as narrator Yair Mendelson, his unusual conception, his unhappy marriage, and his longing for a home of his own. Yair achieves his wish: he builds his new home with the help of his female contractor, with whom he falls in love. All the characters and their families are linked, homing pigeons make their nests, and the characters whose lives come together all have "homing" stories as well. Magical realism works beautifully in this powerfully suffused novel of love, loss, and the need for home. Highly recommended.
Romance between two pigeon handlers has unexpected consequences in this award-winning novel from Israeli author Shalev. Yair, a tour guide in Jerusalem and occasional chauffeur for his wealthy wife's clients, meets a veteran of the 1948 War of Independence who recalls the bloody death of a young, pudgy homing-pigeon trainer known to the troops only as "the Baby." Baby's last act is to dispatch a pigeon. The message the bird carries and its intended recipient form one narrative thread of this rambling novel. Alternating with Baby's story is Yair's midlife crisis. His beautiful wife Liora is an ice queen. He makes constant internal conversation with his mother, Raya, whose quirks (endearing to Yair, annoying to the rest of the family) include never deciding anything without a "for and against" chart. Baby grows up on a kibbutz, learning his way around a pigeon loft early. He meets "the Girl," a pigeon handler at the Tel Aviv zoo, and they fall in love. But before the two virgins can consummate their passion, war intervenes. Raya (after weighing "for and against") left Yair's pediatrician father-the children call him Yourdad because that's how she refers to him-breaking his heart. Yourdad, suffering from dementia, imagines he sees Raya, who by now has died of cancer. Yair, who resembles no one else in his family-Raya, Yourdad and brother Benjamin are all tall blondes; he's short and swarthy-is similarly mismatched to willowy Liora, and has always loved Tirzah, a contractor and daughter of the family's closest friend, Meshulam Fried. The fact that Yair resembles the Frieds proves to be a giant red herring. When Raya gives Yair a parting gift of money, he is determined to build a house of hisown, with Tirzah's help. The "homing" symbolism is overdone, and the convergence of the two story lines is not exactly a surprise. Forklift-loads of extraneous material dilute the drama.
"Shalev creates a world that has the richness of invention and the obsessiveness of dreams."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Shalev has deftly layered Yair's story in such a manner that a refreshingly nuanced picture of Israel emerges."
—The Miami Herald
"Vivid characters and sharp dialogue... By working stories in the past and present against each other, Shalev brings into questions the validity, and the reliability, of memory."
—The New York Times Book Review
"In homing pigeons, Shalev has found a motif that is replete with symbolism and scriptural allusion that he uses expertly, with maximum layered effect."
"Brilliant... Universal in its scope and examination of human longing for a sense of roosting."
—The Jerusalem Post
"An exquisite creation, a work of quiet language tat needs no shouting to attain its impact."
—Chicago Jewish Star
"Stunning... This gem of a story about the power of love, which won Israel's Brenner Prize, brims with luminous originality."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)