White Dog Fell from the Sky (Hardcover)
Viking, 9780670026401, 368pp.
Publication Date: January 3, 2013
Eleanor Morse's rich and intimate portrait of Botswana, and of three people whose intertwined lives are at once tragic and remarkable, is an absorbing and deeply moving story.
In apartheid South Africa in 1977, 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.
Like the African terrain that Alice loves, Morse's novel is alternately austere and lush, spare and lyrical. She is a writer of great and wide-ranging gifts.
About the Author
Praise For White Dog Fell from the Sky…
"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
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- The White Dog is a constant presence throughout the book—an important part of the novel but not in the forefront of the action. What does the White Dog mean to you?
- What did you think of the way the story was told from varying points of view, alternating between chapters? Was this an effective way to tell this story?
- In talking about Amen, Isaac says he understands why a woman could love him, "He'd mastered fear. He knew what his life was being lived for " (p. 47). Discuss the different forms of masculinity evidenced by the characters of Amen, Isaac, Lawrence, Hasse and Ian.
- Isaac says, "Every person alive thinks they are the center of the universe, that they are everything, when in fact each of us is less than nothing" (p. 48). Do you agree?
- Discuss the role of marriage and marital fidelity among the characters in this novel. What types of marriages and unions are forged and tested in the novel?
- Isaac is a refugee, displaced from his home and family by necessity. Alice is an expatriate, living far from her native Cincinnati by choice. They both miss their homes. How does living as outsiders affect Alice and Isaac?
- Alice is a part of a community of white Americans and Europeans working in southern Africa. Are they helping or hurting the native people?
- Isaac has a great sense of duty and obligation to his family back in South Africa. He holds himself to high standards of integrity and is committed to providing a better life for his family. How does his sense of duty compare with those of the young men and women in this culture?
- Ian has never been able to imagine a conventionally domestic life for himself. If his story hadn't ended as it did, do you believe that he and Alice would have been able to create a life together?
- How much did you know about apartheid, the African National Congress and the political situation in South Africa before reading this novel? What did you learn from Isaac's story?
- When Alice and Ian head off together for their time in the Tsodilo Hills, he shows her his journal in which he has recorded a story of creation from the San Bushmen: "The San people say this is where the world began . . ." (p. 173). What similarities does this creation story have to others you know?
- Do you have hope for Isaac at the end of the novel?