Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (reread)

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I chose to read Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (written 1927) a few years ago because it caught my eye (see my initial review). I had new insights as I reread it this month in the context of the Newbery Medal winners and honors from the first decade of the award. In particular, I was impressed by the engaging storyline and high quality writing. I believe I read it for a plot perspective before, and hadn’t felt totally interested in the bird focused story. Seeing it as it compares with the other 1920s books for children, however, I am much more impressed. 

Since I have already written about the plot of Gay-Neck, I’ll talk about the writing today. Mukerji is expert at using metaphor to write gorgeous descriptions. The novel takes our narrator and his pidgeon through the jungles in India, the Himalayan mountains and the Buddhist monks that live there, a huge variety of birds all over the world, and the action of a World War I battle. What a variety of settings! My favorite descriptions were the ones during the narrator’s travels through the Himalayas. Here is an example:

The eagles were preening their wings as a man stretches himself before fully waking from sleep. Now I could hear a rustle near by that I thought must be the two eagles coming forward on the front ledge of their nest. Soon came other noises. Storks flew by overhead, strange birds like cranes shouldered the sky. And nearby the bellow of a yak tore the stillness asunder as if he had put his horn through the skin of a drum. Far down, birds called one another.

At last fell a white light on the Kanchinjinga range. Then Mokalu appeared with an immense halo of opal back of his head. The lower ranges, as high as Mont Blanc, put on their vesture of milk-white glory: shapes and colours of stone and tree leaped into sight. Orchids trembled with morning dew. Now the sun, like a lion, leaped on the shoulder of the sky, and the snow-bastioned horizons bled with scarlet fire.

from Gay-Neck Story of a Pigeon (Kindle locations 356-362)

I also was liked the inclusion of Buddhism in the novel. Although the author seems to mention Christian aspects of prayer, the overall theme of the novel was the gentleness, peace, and healing. The traumatized Gay-Neck after the war found these aspects only through the Lama at the monastery as he recovered in the gorgeous and free environment of the Himalayan foothills. This theme of healing was initially a part of the young Gay-Neck’s training, and it seemed to echo through the book as Gay-Neck faced scary situations as a tiny pigeon in a complicated world.

Here’s just one look at the Buddhist monks:

The dim light fell on their tawny faces and blue robes, and revealed on their countenances only peace and love. . . . Even to this day when I awake early I think of those Buddhist monks in the Himalayas praying for the cleansing of the thoughts of all men and women still asleep.

from Gay-Neck Story of a Pigeon (Kindle locations 406-411)

I highlighted so many similar passages of beauty throughout the book. While the scenes of war were much more gritty, of course, the metaphors continue and the author’s clear writing helps elevate Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon far above the other Newbery Medal winners and runners-up that I’ve read so far this year. It is simply beautifully written!

I rate Gay-Neck The Story of a Pigeon Newbery Medal Winner as “fantastic” and say “keep it and read it.”

Newbery rating scale: FANTASTIC | REALLY GOOD | PRETTY GOOD | OKAY | BLAH

What to do with this Newbery: KEEP IT AND READ IT | MAYBE IF YOU HAVE TIME | DON’T BOTHER

Reviewed on June 10, 2024

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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