Title: White Dog Fell From the Sky
Author: Eleanor Park
Genre: Literary fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 352
First line: The hearse pulled onto a scrubby track, traveled several hundred feet, and stopped.
Goodreads blurb: 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.
I finished this book a couple days ago, and yet just thinking about it continues to evoke a feeling of hot, arid, dusty terrain. Obviously, Eleanor Morse knows how to write setting. As I read, it was easy to slip into the world of Botswana, the tempo and rhythms of the people, the complicated politics of a nation that borders South Africa during the height of apartheid. I find myself wishing the author had been able to connect me to the characters as much as she did to the setting.
White Dog Fell From the Sky follows two very different characters: Isaac, a medical student with a promising future who is forced to flee South Africa to Botswana; and Alice, an American who works for the government of Botswana. Alice’s marriage is ending, and she is left at loose ends. She came to Botswana because of Lawrence’s job; no longer his wife, she isn’t sure what her future holds.
Isaac takes work as Alice’s gardener, and is forced to live with an old school friend, Amen. Amen is involved with a violent organization that is working from Botswana to hinder the apartheid regime in South Africa. Isaac wants nothing to do with his cause; he simply wants to work and send money back to his family so his younger sisters and brothers can attend school. He is unable to avoid the violence of Amen’s choices, however, and gets caught up in a world of violence and horrific torture.
I had trouble believing the lengths that Alice goes to in order to find out what happened to Isaac. I think the author should have portrayed Alice and Isaac as spending more time together in the beginning of the book, because the connection doesn’t seem strong enough to warrant the events that follow Isaac’s disappearance.
While the characters and their choices didn’t completely resonate with me, I am still glad I read White Dog Fell From the Sky. I don’t read a lot of fiction set in Africa, and I was fascinated with the description of the land and the culture of the people, in both Botswana and South Africa.