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 his own, 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.