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White Dog Fell from the Sky: A Novel Hardcover – January 3, 2013
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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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
“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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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."
All of these imperfect individuals - all in the process of growth - are connected to each other and to White Dog, who represents - I believe - a spiritual guardian who watches over them. "White Dog would not leave his side. She knew his grief, this dog, who was more than a dog, this dog who had fallen from the sky."
This book succeeds in the best of ways: revealing what it means to be human, how the power of love and loyalty triumphs over hatred and discord. It also succeeds as a window into Botswana and as a revelation of our broader connection to the entire animal universe, and the fences we build (literally and figuratively) to keep others at a distance. It's one of the best I've read so far this year.
Definitely worth reading. The touch of magic in the white dog, easily explainable by ordinary circumstances, adds a surreal dimension to the book.