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A Pigeon and a Boy: A Novel [Format Kindle]

Meir Shalev

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Chapter One


And suddenly," said the elderly American man in the white shirt, "suddenly, a pigeon flew overhead, above that hell."

Everyone fell silent. His unexpected Hebrew and the pigeon that had alighted from his mouth surprised all present, even those who could not understand what he was saying.

"A pigeon? What pigeon?"

The man—stout and suntanned as only Americans can be, with moccasins on his feet and a mane of white hair on his head—pointed to the turret of the monastery. Many years had passed, but there were a few things he still remembered about the terrible battle that had taken place here. "And forgetting them," he declared, "is something I'll never be able to do." Not only the fatigue and the horror, not only the victory—"A victory that took both sides by surprise," he noted—but also the minor details, the ones whose importance becomes apparent only later: for one, the stray bullets--or perhaps they were intentional—that struck the bell of the monastery on occasion—"Right here, this very bell"—and then the bell would ring sharply, an odd sound that sank, then abated, but continued to resound in the darkness for a long while.

"And the pigeon?"

"A strange sound. Sharp at first, and high-pitched, like even the bell was surprised; then it got weaker, in pain but not dead, until the next shot hit it. One of our wounded guys said, 'Bells are used to getting hit from the inside, not the outside.'"

He smiled to himself as though he had only just understood. His teeth were bared, and even those were terribly white, as only elderly American teeth can be.

"But what about the pigeon? What kind of a pigeon was it?"

"I'm ninety-nine percent sure it was a homing pigeon, a Palmach carrier pigeon. We'd been fighting all night, and in the morning, two or three hours after sunrise, we saw it suddenly lifting off."

This Hebrew he had unleashed, without prior warning, was good—in spite of his accent—but his use of the term homing pigeon in English sounded more pleasant and proper than its Hebrew equivalent, even if the bird in question did belong to the Palmach.

"How could you be sure?"

"A pigeon handler was assigned to us, a pigeon expert with a little dovecote—that's what it was called—on his back. Maybe he managed to dispatch the bird before he was killed, or maybe the dovecote busted and the bird flew away."

"He was killed? How?"

"How? There was no lack of how to get killed here—all you had to do was choose: by a bullet or shrapnel, in the head or the stomach or that major artery in your thigh. Sometimes it was right away and sometimes it was real slow, a few hours after you got hit."

His yellow eyes pierced me. "Amazing, isn't it?" he said, chuckling. "We went to battle with homing pigeons, like in ancient Greece."


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.

A plain-looking pigeon: bluish-gray with scarlet legs and two dark stripes like those of a prayer shawl adorning the wings. A pigeon like a thousand others, like any other pigeon. Only an expert's ears could pick up on the power of those beating wings, double that of normal pigeons; only an expert's eyes could discern the width and the depth of the bird's breast, or the beak that carries forth the slant of the forehead in a straight line, or the characteristic light-colored swelling where it meets the head. Only the heart of a pigeon fancier could grasp and contain the longing that has collected inside such a bird and determined its course and forged its strength. But already his eyes had grown dim, his ears had fallen deaf, his heart had emptied and was still. Only she remained—the pigeon—her yearning for home, his final wish.

Up. First and foremost, up. Above the blood, above the fire and the columns of smoke. Above the wounded, their flesh riddled, torn, burnt, silent. Above those whose bodies will remain intact but whose souls have been extinguished. Above those who have died and who, with the passing of many days, will die once again with the deaths of those who remembered them.

Up. Aloft and distant, to where the gunfire will become a faint ticking and the shouts will fall mute and the smell will dissipate and the smoke will clear, and the dead will appear one like the other as if cast from a single mold, and the living will take their leave of them, each man to his destiny, wondering what they did right to deserve to live, and what their comrades—lying now before them—did wrong that they deserved to die. And then a quick look to the sides, and homeward, in a straight line, as homing pigeons fly. Homeward, her heart fluttering but courageous, golden eyes frightened but fully open, missing no helpful topographical detail, a transparent, auxiliary set of eyelids pulled taut over them against blinding light and dust. Another thin stripe embellishes the short, curved tail, a hint at the bird's ancient Damascene pedigree. The small, rounded head, full of yearning and memories: the loft, the pigeonhole, the cooing of a mate, the warm scent of the nest and brooding. The hand of a young woman passing over the feeding trough, the tinkling of seeds in the young woman's box calls her, the woman's gaze scans the heavens awaiting her, and her words—"Come, come, come"—invite and comfort.

"Not only me. We all saw it," the elderly American said. "They must have, too, because all the weapons fell silent for a moment. Ours and theirs. Not a single gun fired, no grenades exploded, and all the mouths stopped shouting. It was so quiet that we heard the bird's wings beating the air. For a single moment every eye and every finger was following that bird as she did what we all wanted to do: make her way home."

By now he was quite agitated; he paced to and fro, his fingers plunged deep into the snowy-white thickness of his leonine hair. "After all, that's what she was: a homing pigeon. That's all she wants and all she knows. She took off, didn't make that big circle in the air you always read about in books, the one that homing pigeons make before they figure out the right direction to take. She just flew straight out of there, no delay, like an arrow shot in that direction—northwest, if I'm not mistaken; yes, according to the time of day and the sun, I'm correct. Right in that direction. You wouldn't believe how fast she disappeared."

A matter of seconds. With the greatest of longing and speed. She was there, then she faded. The hand that dispatched her fell to the ground; the gaze still followed her, the bell still resounded, refusing to die out, a few final notes spilling forth, gathering toward that distant sea of silence, while the blue-gray of the pigeon was swallowed into its twin on the horizon, and was gone. And below, the fingers returned to their triggers and the eyes to their scopes, and the gun barrels resumed their thunder and the mouths their groaning and gaping and gulping of air, their bellowing, their gasping of last breaths.

Now the man turned to his friends, reverted to American English, explaining and describing and pointing: "Over there somewhere, behind the pine trees," or "Right here." He told of an Iraqi armored vehicle equipped with a machine gun and a cannon that "was running around here like it owned the place." With the gestures of a generous host he motioned to "right there, that's where I lay with my gun, at the corner of the roof. But over on that building there was a sniper and he put a bullet in me."

With dexterity uncommon in a man his age, he bent over and rolled up his trousers, exposing two pale scars between his knee and ankle. "See? Right there. The little one's where the bullet went in, and the big one's where it came out. Our sapper carried me down on his back, went back up to take my place, and got hit by a mortar shell." He reverted to Hebrew, meant only for me. "A bigger and stronger guy even than me, poor sucker. Torn right in half, died in a split second."

He talked and recounted, freeing memories that had been imprisoned inside him for so long. He let them breathe a little air, stretch their bones, see the place where they were formed; he let them argue, compare: Which had changed? Which hadn't even been there in the first place? Which were worthy of being preserved, and which no longer?

"And the guy who brought the pigeons?" I asked, pursuing my own agenda. "The pigeon handler? You said he was killed. Did you see where exactly?"

Those eyes settled on me again, the yellow eyes of a lion. One large, tanned hand wrapped itself around my shoulders; another large, tanned hand rose in the air and pointed. Age spots on the back of it, its fingernails buffed, a silver sailor's watch beautifying its wrist, a white shirtsleeve pressed and rolled to the elbow. It was a hand easy to imagine clutching a rifle, patting the head of a grandchild, pounding on a table, knowing waists and thighs.


A good and pleasant vigor coursed through me suddenly, as if those were the eyes of a father gazing upon his son, as if this were the hand of a father slipping from head to shoulder—guiding, offering strength and support.

"Where? Show me exactly."

He tilted his aged head downward to mine, just as all the tall people in my life do when speaking to short ones. "There. Between the edge of the grass and the children on the swings. You ...

Revue de presse

Praise for A Pigeon and a Boy

"[A] stunning tale... This gem of a story about the power of love, which won Israel's Brenner Prize, brims with luminous originality."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"An excellent book [that]touches and breaks your heart and leaves you deep in thought about what was and what could have been."
--Hatzofeh (Tel Aviv)

Praise for Meir Shalev's Previous Work

"Meir Shalev, the Woody Allen of the desert, is an Israeli author one absolutely has to read!"

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

"It is as though the Song of Solomon had been rewritten by Gabriel Garcia Marquez... You get a master class in the storyteller's art."
--The Daily Telegraph (London)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 2790 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 321 pages
  • Editeur : Schocken; Édition : Reprint (24 décembre 2008)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Composition améliorée: Activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°97.405 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Amazon.com: 4.4 étoiles sur 5  83 commentaires
87 internautes sur 90 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 What Chagall is to Paint 25 janvier 2008
Par Peggy Shapiro - Publié sur Amazon.com

The feeling I had when reading a Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev that I had entered the world of a Chagall painting. In fact, what Chagall is to paint, Shalev is to words.

First they both create intense, detail-packed scenes.
Marc Chagall wastes no space as every square inch of his canvas is filled with vibrant and powerful colors and detail. A Marc Chagall painting is a feast for the eyes. These details makes the extraordinary events more plausible. Shalev's rich sensory details allow the reader not only to see, but to touch, taste and hear and fully enter the scene. The story of one of the main characters, The Baby, starts:
That day began as many other's in the baby's life, with his eyes opening as always before those of the other children. With his skin feeling the coolness and warmth of the air....With his ears listening to the male pigeons squabbling on the roof, their nails scraping the drainpipes, the hands of the woman in charge of the kibbutz children's house toiling in the small kitchen. With his nose smelling that the porridge is already cooking there, the margarine softening, the jam reddening in little dishes."

For Shalev memory is a close up lens of details: the young woman who's knees never stopped jiggling, the taste of pickles, his mother's wide brimmed yellow hat, the doctor dipping cookie after cookie into lemon and tea, his brother skipping from rock to rock while he plodded along, the smell of hot dust, the blue handkerchief that is used for tears of joy and loss. Shalev writes:
There are some people whose sensory organs capture reality for them. But with me, my sensory organs mediate between reality and memory, and not every organ in its realm. Sometimes my nose connects sound to image, sometimes my ear feels, my eye recalls aromas, my fingers see.

Chagall, like Shalev, loves the Bible and it forms the undercurrent or backdrop of their work. The subject matter of many of Chagall's most well known works such as Rachel Hides Her Father's Household Gods and Solitude are the familiar tales from the Old Testament.
Even Chagall's work which is not about a biblical theme has icons of Judaism: A chuppah (marriage canopy), a talis (prayer shall), a torah.

In A Pigeon and a Boy, the narrator, a tour guide, takes us through Israel, before it became a state and after, and that tour includes over three thousand years of historical reference. In one site, Moses is on Mount Nebo in another the The Boy dispatches a dove like Noah in the ark, in yet another, points out where Samuel and Samson once had stood. More than the direct mention of biblical places and persons is the echoing of the language of the Bible. When a building contractor points and pronounces: "Let there be a wall" and "Let there be a window" and ..."Let there be a deck," we hear the Genesis creation story. The Boy, like the first man, Adam, "...did not walk ahead of not behind the girl. He walked abreast of her." Even in the handling of pigeons we hear the Jewish liturgy of Yom Kippur. Instead of "who shall live and who shall die," Shalev tells of Miriam, the pigeon trainer, who painstakingly records in her book (not the book of life),"...which pigeons and landed first and which last, which had managed to pass easily through the bars or the trap door and which had not."

Both artists, painter and writer incorporate the realistic side by side with the fantastic. Animals and humans have special powers of levitation, flight, telepathy, and telekinesis. Chagall's lovers take flight in a brilliantly blue sky, above the Eiffel Tower and the rooftops of Paris Houses. The everyday becomes magical.

In A Pigeon and a Boy, there is the scene when a wealthy businessman enters a street in pre-1948 Tel Aviv driving a large American Ford Thunderbird. "Suddenly a hush fell on the street. Boys lifted their heads from games of marbles. Girls skipping rope froze in mid-twirl. Men fell silent, licking their lips. Women became Lot's wife, pillars of salt." In this world where reality is shaped by special powers, birds can deliver love and comfort and even death can be challenged and to some measure beaten.

In a dreamlike atmosphere Chagall and Shalev share many of the same images. For Chagall, it was nostalgia for the village he left behind in Russia. This village appears and reappears in numerous pieces. For Shalev, it is one woman's nostalgia for her home in Tel Aviv, a man's overwhelming desire to have as house of his own, and a people's unwavering longing for their homeland. Other common images are birds, which abound in Chagall's work and which are central of the story of Shalev's tale.

In addition to shared techniques and symbols, Chagall and Shalev both believe in the power of love to transcend and heal. Chagall's lovers are elevated above the world. They float, they fly, they spring upside down and do head stands. Nothing holds down love, not even gravity.

A Pigeon and A Boy is the story of love conquering even death and of love healing a broken soul. In the midst of a battle, the pigeon flies to carry its message of life, and the war falls silent.
"The pigeon ascended rapidly. Above the flames, above the smoke, above the gunshots, above the shouts, to the sky blue, the silence. Homeward. To Her." And a man whose confidence and soul had been crushed, is restored by his love of a woman and a house and their love of him. "I built and was built, I loved and was loved, my soul grew a new skin, a roof, a floor, a wall."

The magic and sensory details, the dreams and hope in A Pigeon and A Boy, like the work of Chagall, leave us richer for the experience.
28 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A slow, soaring read 1 décembre 2007
Par Jenni Tsafrir - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This is the kind of book you want to read slowly, to savour every word, and long for it not to finish. Meir Shalev's beautifully crafted book, with its flowing, evocative language, masterfully translated by Evan Fallenberg, consists of two ingeniously interwoven tales of people a generation apart, linked by places and events. One is a first person narrative of an adult tour-guide yearning for affection and a place he can consider 'home', and the other a touching story of the love between two teenagers, whose main channel of communication is through the homing-pigeons they send back and forth for the Hagana, the underground movement struggling against British rule in pre-State Israel. Through the intertwined tales, artfully tied up in the final denouement, the reader subtly gains insight into the handling of homing-pigeons and the tense days leading up to the War of Independence. The slight suspension of credibility called for here and there in the book only serve to enrich the sensitive flow of a wonderful story. Not to be missed!
31 internautes sur 34 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A masterpiece of beautiful writing 5 novembre 2007
Par Talia Carner - Publié sur Amazon.com
A masterpiece of two woven stories, the love story between two pigeon handlers in the period prior to Israel's War of Independence framed and intersected by that of a tour guide specializing in bird watching who learns the details of the tale from one of his guests.

In this unlikely subject, the reader is treated to learning the habits and handling of homing pigeons that served as reliable means of communication during the British Mandate of the land of Israel until 1948.

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.

A great book selection for a book group, as it covers several interesting issues to discuss.

Talia Carner, author,
Puppet Child and China Doll
19 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 novel takes wing 30 novembre 2007
Par Regina Vitolo - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
All novels about Israel fascinate me. This one intrigued me because of the rhythm of each sentence, and therefore, kudos to the translator. The parallel stories intertwine and the narrative is not lost because of it, as in so many other novels using flashback technique. The ending was so poetic, so indicative of the lengths to which one must go to survive in a land that has a precarious topography, the joy of discovering love and unexpected friendship, the land of women alongside the men/boys they admire, the willingness to share and provide support - these stimulated my mind. Every character stood out for me, and I would love to divulge the ending, but that would spoil it for a reader. This book has a mystique that resonates. Hardship and love, and not a 'pat' love story at all - uniquely told, immersing the reader in every page, and lingering afterward.
I suppose you'd say I enjoyed this tale, where the battle is the background, the war between palestine and israel is not the centerpoint, and the reader is not embroiled in the brutality. It is the people who leap from the page.
I am reminded of Masha Hamilton's novels about the Middle East and her ability to evoke the essence of the land and the people, wshether Israeli or Arab.
A Pigeon and a Boy: A Novel
9 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Pigeon and an Olive Branch 23 septembre 2008
Par Mira - Publié sur Amazon.com
When I first spotted the book on the shelves at one of the local bookstores, I stared at it for 2-minutes. It wasn't the glossy jacket that stood out, nor was it a particularly catchy title that made me want to buy the book. It was the author's name: Meir Shalev.

An Israeli author's book being sold here? I could tell the author is an Israeli from the name. I picked the book out of curiosity and treated it as a window into a forbidden culture.

I gave the book 5 stars not because I think it is extraordinarily imaginative or extremely engaging, but simply because I found it very human. It is certainly original. I could easily describe Shalev as the Amin Maalouf of Israel, but I wish to remain politically correct.

The story is set at modern day Israel, but stretches back to a time shortly before the Nakbah (or what is referred to by the author as Israel's War of Independence). Yair is an out-of-place, ugly-duckling-member of his family that consists of a biological mother; an adoptive father; and an unscrupulous younger half-brother, who is everything Yair isn't.

Yair's almost miraculous birth, and the story revolving around it, as well as the relationship he had with his mother and her influence on him - is what the story is mainly about. What the story tells us, metaphorically, is that carrier pigeons deliver much more than coded messages in tiny capsules. They carry hope; love; perseverence; dedication and a lot more. The messages they deliver are sagas of all kinds. Pigeons are the hidden warriors; the love messengers; and the deliverers of the gift of life - a life like that of Yair's.

I was delighted to have discovered this Israeli author. It felt like humanity triumphed over imposed cultural censorship and isolation. We may very well be political enemies (or made to feel as such), but the culture of arts and narratives transcends geographical borders and checkpoints. Something for our cultures to celebrate.
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