Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Book Review: White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse
Author: Eleanor Morse
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: January 3, 2013
Source: ARC received from publisher for an honest review
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
In apartheid South Africa in 1976, medical student Isaac Muthethe is forced to flee his country after witnessing a friend murdered by white members of the South African Defense Force. He is smuggled into Botswana, where he is hired as a gardener by a young American woman, Alice Mendelssohn, who has abandoned her Ph.D. studies to follow her husband to Africa. When Isaac goes missing and Alice goes searching for him, what she finds will change her life and inextricably bind her to this sunburned, beautiful land.
Let's cut to the chase here: I loved this book. I had no idea what to expect going in (as we know from previous posts, I do not often read the full description), but what unfolded in these pages was equal parts tragic, poetic, and disarming.
This is the first book I've read by Morse, and it certainly won't be the last. Her writing stopped me in my tracks. Having never traveled to Africa myself, Morse made Botswana come alive for me: its stark beauty, its harsh ecosystems, and its political turbulence. However, she takes you on a journey through more than just the setting. I felt like I was constantly on a mental trek with each character, as they worked through their own versions of love, loss, and rebirth.
The real kicker for me was the dichotomy between Alice and Isaac throughout the novel. Their situations are so very different: Alice, a 32-year-old American expat dealing with divorce and the previously-unexplored possibility of being childless. And Isaac, a 27-year-old South African medical student who is forced to leave his country and find a way to still support the mother and siblings he left behind. At first, I was honestly unsure of how parallels would be drawn between these two. Given the political and economic realities of Isaac's situation, I was afraid that Alice's problems would become petty in comparison. However, I soon realized that Morse wasn't trying to make me compare the two. Instead, Alice and Isaac, though both dealing with issues of loss and healing, make much of their progress throughout the novel separately, and only later do they come together and use these experiences to help each other grow. I was so impressed with how the author managed to weave these two very different journeys together into one cohesive tale.
Beyond that, this is one of those novels that constantly makes you feel like there is some deeper meaning happening behind the scenes. For example, White Dog (a small mutt that Isaac unintentionally adopts upon coming to Botswana): what is her purpose? Obviously, she's a title character, so I spent a lot of time considering her place in the novel. Is she meant to represent a higher power of some kind? A sense of comfort even in the worst of times? My best guess is a combination of these. But either way, I found her presence to be an interesting stabilizer around which the rest of the novel could orbit.
Bottom line: the positively gorgeous prose is reason enough to read this novel, but Morse gives you fascinating characters and settings to boot. A great choice for fans of The Poisonwood Bible or A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Check out some other reviews of White Dog Fell From The Sky:
What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels? Any set in Africa?