What do you think?
Rate this book
336 pages, Kindle Edition
First published August 11, 2020
For his heroic service, Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with palm. He was returned to the United States and died at Fort Monmouth, N.J. on June 13, 1919, as a result of his wounds. Cher Ami was later inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931, and received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Pigeon Fanciers in recognition of his extraordinary service during World War I. - from the Smithsonian--------------------------------------
…in a contest against passion, truth always makes a poor showing.Two kinds of heroism are on display in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. The usual sort is displayed by a homing pigeon, Cher Ami of the title, braving and taking enemy fire to bring news back to base of the dire situation faced by a battalion caught behind enemy lines. The other was the courage Charles Whittlesey, the commander of that battalion, mustered to remain in place when the urge to retreat was almost overwhelming. Movement would have offered no assuredness of survival, and probably would have resulted in annihilation, the other option, surrendering to the surrounding German army, again offered no certainty of survival, but confidently promised the collateral damage of severe disgrace. A very Anthony Fauci decision, selecting the least of the available evils, but Whittlesey chose the one offering the greatest hope for the best results.
Even the few who had come through the incident largely unhurt looked like shades; greeting the new arrivals with yellowed grins and vacant eyes.
Each man was the miserable monarch of a kingdom that squirmed with vermin, one that consisted of the dirt and a bit of sky each one could see from the dirt, of their feet in their boots in the mud—a kingdom indistinguishable from a grave.But the battle and the heroism displayed is only one part of the story, albeit a compelling one.
Battle was said to harden a man—during my youth I’d heard this stated in the same offhand tones used to discuss first Communions and debutante balls—but in my case there had been no hardening, only a constant effort to hold together despite proliferating cracks.
“After the woods our good cheer was quelled by the faint first whiff of a real battlefield, a gagging combination of shit and gunpowder, gas and blood, decaying flesh and muddy rot. Though still distant, it was almost unbelievably awful, sending a spark of panic up my spine.”Trapped in the Argonne Forest, Whit heroically leads his men with distinction as their lives are held so precariously between being discovered by the Germans and being bombed by their own side. Whit has to watch his runners die and their stock of pigeons dwindle until there is only Cher Ami left.
“Her flight gave me a quick thrill of hope, but when she vanished over the ridge, the feeling did as well. We were really down to last things now: last pigeon, last scouts, and soon, perhaps, last bullets and last breaths.”Cher Ami and Whit alternate their narrative throughout the novel and the two views on a situation are astutely compared and contrasted. The story from pre-war to the aftermath if filled with wonderful sensitivity and emotional impact. As Cher Ami reflects while in the Smithsonian “The Great War cost me a lot, and although it’s not a competition, on this, the eve of my centenary, I can honestly conclude that it cost Whit more.”
Charles White Whittlesey was born in Florence, Wisconsin, where his father worked as a logger, and he attended school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He moved with his family in 1894 to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he graduated from Pittsfield High School in the class of 1901. He enrolled at Williams College, where he was a member of St. Anthony Hall, graduating in 1905. He was voted the "third-brightest man" in his class, and because of his aristocratic manner was nicknamed "Count." He earned a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1908. Soon after graduating he formed a law partnership with his Williams classmate J. Bayard Pruyn in New York City. Influenced by his friend and roommate at Williams, Max Eastman, Whittlesey spent several years as a member of the American Socialist Party before resigning his membership in disgust over what he viewed as the movement's increasing extremism.This novel is a never-ending experience of war in its brutal severity. The historic detail might have perhaps overstayed its welcome, and became longwinded, but the overall story,written from a unique postmodern angle, was compelling enough. Who would consider writing a novel with a pigeon(with a poetic sense of humor) as one of the two protagonists?