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May 13, 2024

White Dog Fell from the Sky: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

White Dog Fell from the Sky, by Eleanor Morse.

He thought, if they were like his great grandfather, there would be laughter falling from the sky. These days, people live in the world as though they are precious vessels, separate, each holding something that must be guarded. But his grandfather taught him something different. We are doorways, openings into something greater than ourselves, something that we don't understand and will never understand. We have nothing precious in and of ourselves. We are only precious in that we are part of something that is too big to know. - from White Dog Fell from the Sky, page 33 -

Isaac Muthethe is living in South Africa in 1976, a black medical student whose life is upended by the murder of a friend by white members of the South African Defense Force. Forced to flee to Botswana, Isaac leaves everything behind: his bright future as a doctor, his mother, his young siblings, and the country he has called home since his birth. Smuggled across the border in a hearse, he wakes up disheveled and confused but not alone. A white dog sits at his side and stubbornly refuses to be run off. With White Dog at his heels, Isaac makes his way to Gaborone where he unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance named Amen, a man who has become embroiled in the South African resistance movement called the ANC. Isaac accepts the invitation to stay with Amen and his wife and young child, while he looks for work as a gardener. Eventually he is hired by Alice Mendelssohn, a white American whose marriage is coming apart at the seams.

When Alice leaves Isaac to watch over her home while she goes on a work-related trip into the bush, she has no idea that tragedy is about to unfold. When Alice returns only a few short weeks later, she finds White Dog nearly dead at the end of the driveway and Isaac missing. Her search to uncover the mystery of Isaac's disappearance will open her eyes to the cruelty of Apartheid in South Africa and the chance for a life she had never imagined.

Eleanor Morse's brilliant and heartbreaking novel explores the ways in which our lives become entangled with others in the face of tragedy and loss, and how that connection is able to lift us from despair to recovery and redemption. Isaac is a man whose sensitive and caring nature is challenged by the cruelty of Apartheid. Gifted and honest, he only wants to make the world a better place, especially for his younger siblings still caught up in the danger in South Africa.

You hold the future for others, not only for yourself. - from White Dog Fell from the Sky, page 9 -

Then there is Alice, a woman who finds herself in Africa, far from her home in the Midwest and questioning her future without her husband. Alice is flailing about, searching for something which will anchor her to the unforgiving land. On her trip into the bush she meets Ian, a man who feels at home in the desert and has a heart not only for the land and its native peoples, but for the art created by the !Kung San.

Ancient Bushmen pounded hematite for red paint, bound it with blood serum, shaped quills, feathers, or bones for brushes, and found the stillness in themselves to capture life as they'd felt it. You could see it in the paintings: they'd watched, they'd listened, they'd understood their own place in the universe, no greater and no lesser than the animals they painted. You could feel in these paintings how time whirled through them, how the infinite opened up before them when they knocked at its door, spilling out its terrible glories. - from White Dog Fell from the Sky, page 160 -

White Dog Fell from the Sky is a novel of tremendous scope and depth, giving the reader an unflinching look into a region of astounding beauty and cruelty, a look at political and military brutality against the backdrop of a vivid culture which depends on the environment, ecology and the unrelenting flow of wildlife for survival.

This novel is riveting, tensely written, and gorgeously penned. I found myself wanting both Alice and Isaac to find their paths into a brighter future. I longed to see them realize their dreams. All of the characters are well-drawn and flawed, complex and very human in their motivations, desires and fears. White Dog is a surprisingly compelling character, symbolic of love and loyalty and trust in a novel which challenges all of those things.

White Dog would not leave his side. She knew his grief, this dog who was more than a dog, this dog who had fallen from the sky. - from White Dog Fell from the Sky, page 90 -

Morse explores the idea of faith and the very human response to reject a greater good when evil exerts its forces. Isaac, of all the characters, finds his faith shaken to the core.

He looked at the stars and planets and felt them ripped from their sockets by a wind hurled from the heavens. To whom would he pray? In that huge, quiet, senseless darkness, he understood that he could no longer believe in a god who let such things happen. All his life, he'd been taught to pray, but now there was no one there. - from White Dog Fell from the Sky, page 140 -

Morse's prose is breathtaking and wrenching. I literally found myself holding my breath at times as I turned a page, eager to see what was coming next, and yet terrified to find out. White Dog Fell from the Sky is literary and historical fiction at its best -- essential, affecting and electrifying. This is literature whose story feels important and which speaks to what makes us all human no matter where we live or who we are. In the end, it is a novel which is unforgettable.

I found myself emotional and tearful when I turned the final page of Morse's book. Readers who are interested in Africa, specifically the regions of South Africa and Botswana, will find this to be a must-read novel.

Very highly recommended.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ : Five stars out of five.

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-02-18
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