If you are tittering at the title, (grow up! and) laugh instead at the description of Gay-Neck’s pedigree of pigeonly perfection:
His father was a tumbler who married the most beautiful pigeon of his day; she came from a noble old stock of carriers….From his mother he inherited wisdom, from his father bravery and alertness.
And of Gay-Neck’s birth:
About the twentieth day after the laying of the egg, I noticed that the mother was not sitting on it any more. She pecked the father and drove him away every time he flew down from the roof of the house and volunteered to sit on the egg. Then he cooed, which meant, “Why do you send me away?”
She, the mother, just pecked him the more, meaning, “Please go. The business on hand is very serious.”
And finally, of Gay-Neck’s glamorous pulchritude:
Of course, Gay-Neck did not come out of his egg with an iridescent throat…until he was three months old, there was very little hope that he would acquire the brilliant collar; but at last, when he did achieve it, he was the most beautiful pigeon in my town in India, and the boys of my town owned forty thousand pigeons.
Okay, now that we’re all on the same page concerning Gay-Neck’s neck, this 1928 Newbery Award winner is essentially about the bestest-pigeon-ever’s myriad adventures, both physical and mystical-spiritual, as he journeys through the Himalayas for the heck of it and then to France as a carrier pigeon during World War I. While some find the prose poetic, exotic and poetic are not the same thing.
For the first half of the book, Gay-Neck is accompanied by his devoted caretaker, a young pigeon fancier based on author Dhan Gopal Mukerji’s childhood self. He acts as our narrator from Gay-Neck’s birth to the point where he and Gay-Neck become separated by a hawk attack in the Himalayas. Then, Mukerji abruptly switches to writing from Gay-Neck’s perspective to fill in the gaps up to when the two are reunited in a Buddhist monastery where the head lama chants away all of Gay-Neck’s debilitating fear.
Gay-Neck may be battle ready, but he still has a lot to learn about the world, for he demands before heading to the front, “tell me this: Why is there so much killing and inflicting of pain by birds and beasts on one another? I don’t think all of you men hurt each other? Do you? But birds and beasts do. All that makes me so sad.”
Oh, Gay-Neck! Interestingly enough, even back in 1927, Mukerji understood the idea of post traumatic stress disorder, because both Gay-Neck and his wartime human companion, Ghond (but he’s very secondary to this story), return to India deeply disturbed from the war. However, it’s very hard to care when the focus is on a pigeon presenting these symptoms. To cure them, it’s another trip back to the monastery and some more eastern philosophy. And while Mukerji clearly wants his readers to be inspired by Gay-Neck’s journey and his triumphant call to overcome “the disease of fear and hate that they had caught on the battle-fields,” this ending fell flat for me.
As with Smoky, my verdict is the same: I don’t think I’d be reading Gay-Neck to completion if it weren’t for that gay sticker embellishing the front cover. On the bright side, I’m one Newbery closer to the present day.