"Both heartbreaking and sharply funny...Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is brilliant and surprising at every turn."—Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer finalist for The Great Believers
A heart-tugging and gorgeously written novel based on the incredible true story of a WWI messenger pigeon and the soldiers whose lives she forever altered, from the author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.
From the green countryside of England and the gray canyons of Wall Street come two unlikely heroes: one a pigeon and the other a soldier. Answering the call to serve in the war to end all wars, neither Cher Ami, the messenger bird, nor Charles Whittlesey, the army officer, can anticipate how their lives will briefly intersect in a chaotic battle in the forests of France, where their wills will be tested, their fates will be shaped, and their lives will emerge forever altered.
A saga of hope and duty, love and endurance, as well as the claustrophobia of fame, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is a tragic yet life-affirming war story that the world has never heard. Inspired by true events of World War I, Kathleen Rooney resurrects two long-forgotten yet unforgettable figures, recounting their tale in a pair of voices that will change the way readers look at animals, freedom, and even history itself.
Rooney follows Cher Ami, a British-born homing pigeon, and Charles Whittlesey, a Harvard-educated lawyer and WWI veteran, in this disappointing tale (after Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk). Cher Ami and Whittlesey alternately narrate their life stories leading up to the war: Cher Ami, female despite the name, is hatched into a happy pigeon family on an idyllic farm and becomes a prize-winning racer; Whittlesey, a New Englander, enjoys New York's privacy and abundance of other secretly gay men. As a commissioned officer, Whittlesey must adjust to the coarse draftees under his command, while Cher Ami is a natural in her training ("The day I first flew home was the day I knew the meaning of true purpose"). Whittlesey goes on to become an effective commander, leading his men with pistol drawn and exceeding expectations from superiors. This proves dangerous when his battalion (now famously known as the "lost battalion") gets trapped behind German lines and is under attack for days before they are relieved. Cher Ami, especially when talking about her youth or her taxidermied afterlife in the Smithsonian, is often appealing, but the two decorated war heroes are often tiresome, whether explaining how pigeons can't understand human racism or the hollow life of a hero who couldn't save his men. Rooney's characters' tendency to belabor the obvious ultimately sinks the book.