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White Dog Fell from the Sky: A Novel Hardcover – January 3, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 211 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When he sees his activist friend thrown under a train by the apartheid defense force in 1976, medical student Isaac Muthethe gets himself smuggled in a hearse across the border from South Aftrica to Botswana, where he finds work as a gardener for Alice Mendelssohn (Don’t call me Madam), from Rhode Island, who is studying the cave paintings of the earliest humans, the ancient San people. Can Isaac get a letter to his mother in South Africa? Alice is in love with Ian, her English neighbor, whose secret mission is to cut cattle-farm wire fences so that wild animals can roam free and not perish for lack of water. Then Isaac is extradited and tortured. From the first page, the moving personal stories dramatize the big issues of ecology, politics, borders, race relations, art, and history. The rock art of the first nomadic peoples is beyond tourism. And the loss of thousands of wild animals left dying of thirst by fences put up to protect cattle ranches will strike a universal chord. --Hazel Rochman


"White Dog Fell From the Sky catches the soul of compassion. It is one of the wisest, most comprehensive, most compelling books I've ever read. Neither human nor beast is treated sentimentally, but the capacity to care is celebrated here in a way that is politically and personally cogent.  It's a wild and wooly story in a far away land, yet its relevance is present in our own imperfect hearts: who and how to love and when and why to stop. Here's the real thing, a book of genuine intellect and inspiration, superbly written, fascinating."- Sena Jeter Naslund, New York Times bestselling author of Ahab's Wife, Abundance and Adam & Eve

“Magic, friendship, the tragedy of apartheid and the triumph of loyalty are recounted in poetic, powerful prose by this unconventional and intelligent writer. Shattering and uplifting.”—Kuki Gallmann, author of I Dreamed of Africa

“Eleanor Morse captures the magic of the African landscape and the terror and degradation of life under apartheid…[She] channels her fascination with the factious regions into her courageous characters, whose story roars along and arrives, finally, at hope.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

"There are not enough adjectives to describe the strength of this story. Eleanor Morse has written a character driven novel with character. White Dog Fell From the Sky has a life of its own that blends reality, insight, observation, and nuance with such ease and grace you forget you are reading...A powerful story of love—love of a person, a people, a land and living with purpose...Emotionally riveting, heartbreaking, and at times unbearable, while simultaneously embracing hope, insight, and a sense of perpetual mystery. Each sentence is more beuatiful than the last."—Gabriel Constans, New York Journal of Books


"White Dog Fell from the Sky is that rare thing: a convinced and convincing love story. Past that—and this novel’s reach is wide—it reminds us, tellingly, how Africa is mother of us all.”—Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising and The Color of Night

“Big issues of ecology, politics, borders, race relations, art, and history.”—Hazel Rochman, Booklist

"Morse brings the natural world of Botswana to vivid life."—Kirkus Reviews

“Brutal and beautiful…it explores the strength and friendship, the bonds of love, and the inhumanity regimes are capable of inflicting upon individuals…Morse’s unflinching portrayals of extremes of loyalty and cruelty make for an especially memorable novel.”—Publishers Weekly

“Morse’s descriptions of the vast landscapes of Botswana are specific and ravishing.”—BookPage
“Lyrical and quite beautiful, with searing descriptions of the dusty earth, unforgiving sun, and stark skies.”—Entertainment Weekly

“The infinite, healing power of love is put to the test…Morse writes heartbreakingly of isolation, loss, and the soul-deadening effect of torture. Her mesmerizing descriptions of Africa will leave readers wondering how a continent of such beauty can harbor so much evil…This is for readers unafraid to plumb the depths of human emotions.”—Library Journal

“Breathtaking beauty, next to danger and hardships and make-do living…Witness it in all its terrible randomness.”—The Dallas Morning News
“Eleanor Morse writes with sympathy and precision, sensitive to the dislocations of race and class – the grave imbalance of power…The book unfolds into stories both tragic and transcendent.”—Boston.com



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (January 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670026409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670026401
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (211 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every now and then, someone asks me, "Why do I read?" My answer is because of books like this - a book that embraces me in its world, shattering my heart and then restoring it again.

The first character we meet is Isaac Muthethe, a young medical student who was forced to flee South Africa for Botswana after witnessing his friend's death by the white South African Defense Force. Upon arriving there, he is quickly "adopted" by a skinny white dog. Fate brings him - and the dog -- to the home of Alice Mendelssohn, who works for the Botswana government and whose marriage is quickly disintegrating. Despite his lack of experience, he assumes the role of her gardener.

The characters, who fall into an unlikely friendship, are superbly drawn: Isaac, a serious man who never relinquishes his dignity and Alice, who falls deeply in love with a hard-to-tame man named Ian who opens the door to emotions she felt she no longer possessed. When Alice returns from an intense weekend with Ian, she finds that Isaac is missing...and the story develops into unchartered territory.

The theme, again and again, circles back to our place in the universe and how little we know. "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," Isaac reflects, early on.

And Ian, Alice's soul-mate, later reflects on the same thing when he views paintings from the !KungSan: "Whether you believe in God or not, the artists understood that they weren't at the center of the universe, that humans are a small part, surrounded by the power and beauty of the whole.
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Format: Hardcover
This starts with the promise of a powerful novel set in southern Africa during the last desperate years of Apartheid, around 1977-8. It does not quite maintain its quality -- or rather, it reveals itself as something more romantic, less urgent -- but it may be about an even more important topic: the nature of life itself.

Isaac Muthethe, a young South African medical student, escapes into neighboring Botswana hidden in a hearse. The first creature he meets is a stray white dog, who attaches herself to him. He also encounters a former school friend, Amen, who has moved to Botswana to organize cross-border guerilla actions for the ANC. Although Isaac wants no part in Amen's activities, he is grateful for his offer of a place to stay (a mistake, as it turns out). Isaac eventually finds work as a gardener for Alice Mendelssohn, an American working for the government. Although neither knows much about gardening, Isaac puts his heart and soul into it, and soon he and Alice have struck up a close relationship of mutual respect. Then calamity strikes.

It is at this point, about a third of the way through the book, that the story, in my opinion, loses steam. It suddenly becomes more about Alice than Isaac, and although the author (an American who spent some years in Botswana herself) presumably calls upon personal knowledge to portray her, she is the less interesting of the two characters. We sympathize at the break-up of her marriage, though her experience is by no means unusual. We see her mixture and joy and apprehension at finding, as she thinks, someone whom she can love for life, but I could not entirely buy into this. The shift of focus does not stop there.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel set in the time of Apartheid resonates with the "road he'd never meant to travel. The prose is rich and enacts the sights of Africa. The characters are complex, set in the middle of a chaos that bears no easy answer.

Isaac has fled South Africa to escape his probable capture and death by the South African Defense Force. He had allied himself with student activists, one of whom he had been forced to watch die under the wheels of a train. Yet he had also watched the beating and the death by fire of a man suspected of harboring allegiance with the defense force. In the end he has chosen life, but his path continues to be twisted by the forces of history. He is a thoughtful man who has come to be adopted by White Dog, an empathetic creature in his own right. (Too white to have come from Earth, and by inference too good.)

In Botswana he becomes close to a white woman, Alice, who is facing her own dilemma on living a moral life in the reality of Africa 1977. Her travels become a second narrative. I feel her character is empathetic but imperfect, like all of us. In trying to do justice to Isaac she puzzles him. In trying to do justice to the !Kung San in their struggles to survive while fences kill their prey, she is caught by the contradictory forces at play in Africa.

To me Morse teaches us that "each person carries with them their own pouch. That person brings it wherever they go, carried in their hand. Your pouch never empties, only fills and fills. What's on the bottom remains on the bottom and is covered over in time." The lyricism of this statement is representative of the small gems throughout the book. They are not necessarily new, but stated in a way that enabled me to smile to myself and say, "Yes, that is how it is." As the white dog witnesses, so may we.
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