Reviews for Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (Book)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A World War I saga narrated by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both real-life heroes. On Oct. 4, 1918, Cher Ami, a British-trained carrier pigeon, flew a highly dangerous mission in France, delivering a vital message to headquarters from besieged American troops on the front lines. The bird, now stuffed and on display at the Smithsonian, tells her story on the centenary of her historic flight. Maj. Charles Whittlesey was a well-educated, mild-mannered Manhattan attorney who enlisted in the Army and served as commander of what came to be known as The Lost Battalion. From Whittlesey’s account, we learn how he and his men were trapped in enemy territory and cut off from supply lines for five hellish days, under attack not only from the Germans, but from American “friendly fire.” It was Whittlesey who wrote the desperate note that Cher Ami—though severely injured in flight—managed to convey. The major was a strong, well-respected leader, but he held himself responsible for the many deaths and disfiguring injuries in his regiment. Returning home from war, he withered under the glare of the hero’s welcome and sudden fame thrust on him. Rooney, author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017), has a lot on her mind here. Her well-researched novel touches on the folly of war (particularly this war), the sentience of animals, and—especially—survivor guilt and imposter syndrome. Rooney’s writing has a delicate lyricism; particularly vivid are passages describing the horrific sounds (and smells) of battle. The talking pigeon does give one pause: She’s hardly the first such creature in literature, but some of her observations, especially when she rails against human foibles, border on cute. Still, she injects humor and whimsy into an otherwise solemn story. A curiosity but richly imagined and genuinely affecting. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.