White Dog Fell from the Sky: A Novel by Eleanor Morse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An extraordinary novel of love, friendship, and betrayal for admirers of Abraham Verghese and Edwidge Danticat
Eleanor Morse’s rich and intimate portrait of Botswana, and of three people whose intertwined lives are at once tragic and remarkable, is an absorbing and deeply moving story.
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.
Like the African terrain that Alice loves, Morse’s novel is alternately austere and lush, spare and lyrical. She is a writer of great and wide-ranging gifts.
My thoughts: The book begins in Botswana as Isaac Muthethe, a black South African 27 year old man, is unceremoniously dumped on the ground after being smuggled out of his home country under a coffin in a hearse. As Isaac gains consciousness, he realizes he has nothing but the clothes on his back and memories of those he loves, and the sudden acquisition of a white dog who simply attaches herself to Isaac and adopts him or he her.
Isaac's skills consist of what he can no longer claim nor use. He was a medical student in South Africa but now he is suspected of belonging to the South Africa Defense Force, an underground rebellion against apartheid. The year is 1976. Apartheid is alive and well in South Africa and although not actively practiced in Botswana, apartheid's echo can still be heard and felt.
Isaac finds himself hired as a gardener, having absolutely no experience whatsoever, for an American woman named Alice who is at the beginning of her own journey of coming into her own. Both characters take different journeys but both encounter different prisons, literal and figurative. They both find grief and death then circle back around to rediscover humanity and the anchors of keeping the memories alive of those they've met, loved, and connected with.
There is simply far too much to summarize or discuss in a book review. This would be an excellent choice for a book club book because of the parallels and symbolism which were subtle and would need a good discussion to tease them all out. On the other hand, taken at face value, the book is an excellent education in apartheid and politics in South Africa and Botswana.