War With Pigeons: A Novel
If there is one culture that is truly a perennial mystery to me here in the USA, it would be the world of Asian-Americans. Down South we do have a fair amount of Vietnamese-Americans, and a token few others; and while I’ve always enjoyed their cuisine as well as shopping their markets, I can not say I’ve ever made a friend among them. They always seem so mysterious, so different and slightly withdrawn from the rest of us. So I have to admit that I’ve read “War With Pigeons” with real pleasure, not only for the story, but even more so for the slight unveiling of this mysterious world.
At first glance, Tae Kim’s “War With Pigeons” would probably be classified as a mystery novel, although further reading would reveal strong elements of an engaging and intriguing love story as well. More than anything though I would call it a love song to being strongly rooted in one’s culture and not losing one’s identity even while being successful in a foreign world.
Peter, a young attorney, is in charge of taking care of his deceased friend’s estate. Simon died under violent circumstances, and through a diary found among Simon’s possessions emerges a very different image of the successful young Korean-American. Peter realizes how little he really knew his friend, and how little he understood what was driving him, and at the same time also discovers some rather unsettling truths about himself.
Filled with detailed, thoughtfully drawn and engaging characters, with a great flow to the story and a series of fascinating descriptions of scenes probably well known to Korean-Americans, but utterly foreign to most other readers, this novel grabs you and does not let go. Absorbing interactions between family members, business partners and acquaintances; great insights into the dynamics of Korean-American society and its rules; scenes from Korean cafes, room salons and clubs; appealing, yet very human heroes and truly despicable villains – all of this draws the reader in quickly and definitely keeps one’s interest fully engaged.
Simon’s struggle to do the right thing and his tormented musings are very credible and I found myself turning pages with anticipation, wanting and needing to know more. While the whole book was fairly dark, it was also undeniably beautiful and rather poetic. One of my favorite passages was the one about Peter eating the Asian pear, where at least as much was said between the lines as it was in them.
My only – and very slight - criticism is actually something that could well be a cultural difference and not really author’s failing at all. I found a lot of the dialogue somewhat stiff, but that could well be a reflection of a culture totally unknown to me. Also, a bit of proofreading would have caught some misspellings, typos and inconsistent punctuation – which at times proved to be rather amusing.
I would highly recommend Tae Kim’s “War With Pigeons” to readers who are curious about cultures different from theirs, and all those who simply enjoy a well written book.