Rooney is a multitalented, nimble writer, moving easily among literary genres and styles ... It’s quite a leap, and a beautifully successful one, from modern New York City to the trenches of the Argonne Forest near the end of World War I and the alternating voices of a soldier and a bird ... Rooney’s plot delves imaginatively into a historical incident; all the characters, real names preserved, including the bird’s, are based on actual soldiers. Rooney creates warm and empathetic portraits of them ... The novelist, with admirable restraint of her anger at a war born of greed and arrogance by politicians and generals, unfolds with patient attention to the characters and their impossible mission, what real courage is ... The use of a pigeon narrator in a dead-serious story could have come off as a gimmick. But Rooney uses him well. From the vantage point of his flights he sees, more clearly than the major, what a mess humans routinely make, when they interfere with the natural world and each other.
Rooney takes her gift for inhabiting fascinating real-life figures in an exciting new direction ... Rooney provides historical context that is at once sweeping and specific, and her affinity for research is evident in details both lovely and harrowing ... Rooney makes a strong case for considering alternatives to war, pondering who we call heroes and why, and offering animals more empathy and respect. This is a creative, heartfelt, edifying reimagining of an important event in World War I history, as seen through the eyes of two extraordinary individuals.
[Cher Ami] is a stuffed exhibit but takes her situation with so much philosophical grace and humor that I was immediately won over ... This could have been a sentimental tear-jerker. Who wouldn’t cry over a World War I story, featuring a sensitive, tortured officer and a brave, thoughtful messenger pigeon; that is, a dove. The pathos might have been awful. But not in Kathleen Rooney’s elegant and well-researched telling. From its first lines, hearing Cher Ami’s voice, I relaxed, knowing that even if (if?) the story turned out tragically, it was true in the way the best fiction is, with wit, intelligence, insights, and unexpected turns in the plot. Recommended.
The human and avian protagonists in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey both provide brutally honest, graphic observations of their wartime experiences and the foolishness of war in general. These ruminations may be overdone, but the message is sincere. Wrapped around this fictionalized history is an authentic but subtle antiwar theme in the tradition of All Quiet on the Western Front and The Red Badge of Courage. Thanks to the author’s elegant, poetic prose, the reader can enjoy learning about homing pigeons, the fascinating backstory of the Lost Battalion, and the brave bird that changed history.
[Rooney is] an imaginative and audacious biographically inspired storyteller ... Here Rooney brings forward with bravura empathy and preternatural detail two WWI heroes, two battered survivors of a horrific military debacle ... Fluent in the most gruesome of facts, the most subtle of feelings, and the most compassionate of speculations, Rooney gives voice to bird and man, each a misfit ... Rooney uses Cher Ami’s bird’s-eye view and curious afterlife to exhilarating, comic, and terrifying effect, while Whit’s tragic fate is exquisitely rendered. An unforgettable maelstrom of emotion and bloodshed, this is a plangent antiwar novel, call for sexual equality, celebration of animal intelligence, and tribute to altruism and courage.
Rooney 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 storym ... A curiosity but richly imagined and genuinely affecting.
... disappointing ... 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.