There was much that I found to enjoy in A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev, a tale of love and war, family and home, man and beast – well, boy and pigeon. I did not, however, enjoy what I felt was the incredibly slow pace of this novel. The dust jacket of my copy quotes a lyrical Daily Telegraph review: “It is as though the Song of Solomon had been rewritten by Gabriel García Márquez…” Maybe that’s my trouble, I never did get manage to get into One Hundred Years of Solitude…
So I admit to almost giving up on the book, as I got fed up with the slow meanderings of Yair’s mother fixation and his somewhat aimless shuffle through life. And likewise, I got a little bored with the equally nice but lacklustre Baby. Their two stories, told in parallel as is often the case in modern novels, just plodded on pretty uneventfully (give or take a war and a tragedy or two).
Luckily, the pigeons saved the day. Pigeons turned up with Miriam in the kibbutz where the Baby lived; one appeared to the Girl who took it to the zoo in Tel Aviv. And the pigeons grabbed my attention, probably because I love all types of birds and anyway, who can fail to be moved by the thrill and romance of the homing pigeon?
So from that point on, I got into the protagonists’ lives a little more. At first, I got confused about the alternate use of the second and the third person singular in the mother-son inner dialogue that Yair devotes a lot of his time too. Then when I realised it was happening, it kind of made sense. I got to like Meshulam, an infuriating yet lovable interfering old man. I started wondering where the Yair’s and the Baby’s stories linked up. I got there eventually, probably not as soon I should have but well before the author made it obvious.
But even there, the big reveal was something of a damp squib, with the author half apologising for the lack of a real surprise element. He writes: “she gave birth to a boy (…) and there is no need to make any effort in guessing his identity”. The (…) is to avoid a spoiler but take it from me, no Sherlock Holmes is required here.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need a cliff-hanger on every page to keep me entertained, but all this was very slow indeed.
A final point: I have a small question for the translator of the book into English, Evan Fallenberg. “My luvey” keeps coming up in the book to mean, as I understand it from the context, “my lover”, “my darling”. I’m curious as to what Hebrew word could not be rendered by these or similar options and I would like to be enlightened, as it’s probably one of those words with no exact equivalent in English. I don’t think that I’ve ever come across “luvey” spelt like that before reading this book. I know “lovey” which, to me, means “sweetheart”, but as you might say to a child, rather than to a lover. And then there is “lovey dovey” which is appropriate to describe lovers as in “They’re all lovey dovey”. Come to think of it, that would be spot on for this book…