And Then I Read: GAY-NECK, THE STORY OF A PIGEON by Mukerji

GayNeck019

This was the Newbery Award winner in 1928. Ellen read it and didn’t like it enough to keep, so it was going in the donations box, but I pulled it out to try it myself.

Mukerji writes of a very different world: northern India before World War One,  when he was a boy raising pigeons, a popular hobby among him and his friends. Gay-Neck (so named because of iridescent feathers on his neck) was his prize pigeon, and this is the story of his life. It has some surprising elements, including trips to a remote monastery in the Himalayas near Everest (not yet conquered by men at the time) and a trip to Europe during the war to act as a courier pigeon for Indian troops fighting for the British. There are harrowing moments: encounters with hawks and eagles, not to mention war planes and guns, but much of the book is about daily life in India, at Mukerji’s home and in the forests and countryside. Some of the book is “narrated” by the pigeon himself, other parts are told by the author. The style seems unusual, with elements of mysticism, pragmatism and occasional sly social comments. Mostly it’s a good animal story, though. The plot is definitely episodic, and wanders off topic at times. I can’t say I loved it, but I’m glad I read it. Newbery winners are almost always worth a try. The illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff are stark, striking, all black and white patterns and shapes except for the cover, unique. I liked those too.

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