White Dog Fell From the Sky: A Novel

White Dog Fell from the Sky - Eleanor Morse No spoilers here, folks. I'll leave that to the blurters among us. In the late 1970s, two African countries that share a border had radically different racial policies. The South African government was still allowing unspeakable atrocities in the name of apartheid. In contrast, Botswana had a black president married to a white woman, and its people were seeking racial harmony. This cross-border contrast is central to the story, but it's only one of the themes Eleanor Morse covers in this strongly character-based novel. Along with racial tensions, she explores the natural history and anthropology of Botswana, as well as environmental degradation and other factors driving the extinction of the San (Bushman) people. There's even a little eco-sabotage performed by Ian Henry, fence-cutter extraordinaire, with the noble goal of saving the wildlife of the Okavango Delta. The core of the novel is the unlikely friendship that develops between a white woman and a black man. Isaac Muthethe is a South African refugee who entered Botswana illegally, fearing death or worse if he remained in South Africa. An ill-considered marriage brought Alice Mendelssohn from America to Gaborone, Botswana, where she lives with her regrets among her expat friends. She hires Isaac as a gardener out of kindness rather than need. At first it appears that Alice is the giver and Isaac the receiver, but in the process of saving Isaac and caring for those he loves, Alice is herself rescued from the grief of losses old and new. Tending to the immediate needs of those who are helpless brings out Alice's true nature, which is that of a nurturer. She allows Isaac to maintain his dignity while he accepts her largesse. As they ease each other's suffering, they broaden the definition of "family" in a profoundly moving way. Eleanor Morse's prose is flexible. It can be stark when the subject is hatred and brutality, yet lyrical when discussing matters of the heart or describing the behavior of birds and migration of butterflies. I was especially impressed by the way she weaves in all the elements that illustrate the complexity of the world she re-creates. She gives us a political context, as well as historical, environmental, and cultural markers. I wept as I read the closing pages of the novel, and my tears were both sorrowful and hopeful. I wept for all that was taken from Isaac and the way it changed him, but his insistence on autonomy and dignity made me believe he still has what it takes to build a new future. And what of White Dog? After all Isaac has suffered at the hands of men, she seems to be as close as he can come to believing in a god. She is his ineffable, ever-present solace. Rating = 4.5 starsHighly recommended