A novel about love in South Africa and Botswana seems to be few and far between. Never mind the novels with political nuances that came from the likes of J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, White Dog Fell From the Sky doesn’t go down that path but tell the story about how the path of a South African refugee (Isaac) and an American woman in Botswana (Alice) crossed.
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 in a hearse.
As Isaac walks aimlessly through Botswana, a stranger to the land with no aim and no purpose, a white dog follows him wherever he go. By chance Isaac encounters an old friend, Amen, who is a member of the South African resistance movement, the ANC. Amen invites Isaac into his home to live with him. A few days later, Isaac is hired as a gardener by Alice Mendelssohn, an American woman in a nearby town.
Just when I thought the book is about Isaac, Alice takes centre stage as spot light shines on her unfulfilling life as a wife of an Economist. Alice no longer feels love with husband Lawrence due to his infidelity. What scrap heap in the world could hold all the love once felt, now vanished? With her heart wounded, she extended her generosity to Isaac to stay in her home while her heart is open to Ian Harris, a fellow anthropologist who will do anything to protect the animal. Free spirit and unreined, Ian was the kind of person that Alice fell in love with.
When Alice came back from her research trip she found Isaac missing. Alice then went out and search 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. It is a quiet novel that is subtle and combine both beauty and horror seamlessly. Without using the word “love” and “mourning” the novel captures the beauty of these emotions. For a debut novel, it is surprisingly accomplished. Feel the sunburned land of Botswana, feel the pain of Alice and her loss and learn a few smattering Swahili.
I thank Penguin UK for sending me this review copy.
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin, 2013 Printed Length: 352 pages; Setting: Botswana and South Africa. Source: Review copy from Penguin. Finished reading on: 31 May 2013, Friday.
Read a beautiful review on the book: Chalk the Sun
About the writer:
Eleanor Morse has taught in adult education programmes, in prisons and in university systems, both in Maine and in Southern Africa. She currently works as an adjunct faculty member with Spalding University’s MFA writing programme in Louisville, Kentucky. She lives on Peaks Island, Maine.