For three nights near midnight, after the janitors had finished, after the lights were dimmed and the doors of the Smithsonian Museum of American History were locked, I sat beside a pigeon and listened to her tale. This was no ordinary pigeon, the variety you find everywhere white-washing all things beneath them.
I scrolled past the book offered in my daily list from Book Bub that showed what e-book were on sale that day.
“Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey” by Kathleen Rooney? Sounded too much like a cutesy British romance for me. Not my chosen genre for a good read. I don’t recall the other books that day, but I did go back to Cher Ami (for short) to read the blurb and I am so glad I did.
It was indeed a romance of sorts as I fell in love with a pigeon named Cher Ami. Despite the masculine name, Cher Ami was a female homing pigeon trained for racing in Britain. When World War I came along, pigeon keepers were “asked” to “offer” pigeons for messenger service. Cher Ami and some of her fellow dovecote pigeons joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
Major Whittlesey was a refined and educated man who enlisted and was placed in command of a bunch of rowdies from New York’s Lower East Side.
I don’t want to reveal too much about this gripping novel, but it IS based closely on a true story. You can Google Cher Ami and read about her, but if you do that and nothing more, you will miss out on a gorgeously-written book that educates you about pigeons, warfare, and the effects of the two. I will tell you this: she was awarded the French Croix du Guerre.
The author, a teacher of fine art writing, chose a unique and intriguing style for her book. The chapters alternate between the Point of View (POV) or Char Ami and Major Whittlesey with each couplet of chapters beginning with the same paragraph.
For instance, both the first chapter told by Cher Ami and the second chapter told by the major begin with this sentence: “Monuments matter most to pigeons and soldiers.” How the two correlate follows in prose sometimes witty and funny, sometimes sad and heart-rending, but never dull and staid.
I found myself looking forward to sitting in the Smithsonian Museum beside Cher Ami and listening to her reminisce. I read it the first time for the story. I will read it a second time to enjoy the writing,
I had to let this book rest for a few days after I finished it at 2 A.M. I did not get to sleep until almost six that morning and I am still deeply affected by it. It is probably the most profound, but subtle, anti-war book I have ever read and I have read a number of history books about wars.
Buy a copy, download a copy, whatever your choice is. Then, after the janitors are gone, after the lights have dimmed, settle down beside Cher Ami in her glass display case and listen to her tale. She is becoming forgotten; don’t let that happen.