Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review: White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse

White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse
Published by: Viking Books
Published on: Hardcover April 4, 2013, Paperback December 31, 2013
Page count: 369
Genre: fiction
My reading format: paperback provided by the publisher
Available formats: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audiobook, Audible

My review:

The story begins with an air of mystery: Isaac, a black man from South Africa, travels over the border into Botswana underneath a casket inside a hearse. He's dropped out beaten, broken and barely alive. A white dog notices, and once Isaac is well enough to walk, the dog, which Isaac names White Dog, follows him. To sustain himself, Isaac needs to find work in a place where he knows no one. After a long and dusty walk he comes upon a town where he meets Alice, an American white woman who hires him to tend her garden. Alice immediately trusts Isaac, even when he can't understand why, and he begins to creatively transform her outside space.

On the inside, Alice struggles with a marriage to an unfaithful husband, uncertainty in her career and a mother who wishes her to be back home in the United States. She sets off an a business trip with several colleagues, one of whom she becomes involved with, and doesn't return right away. While she is gone, Isaac is unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and is deported back to South Africa and imprisoned. When Alice returns to find Isaac missing, she is determined to find him and bring him back to Botswana. While she tries to get through government red tape and other complications, a special delivery intended for Isaac arrives at Alice's and she must look after it until Isaac can be found.

I both enjoyed and struggled with this book. I loved how Morse wrote so beautifully about the setting. I could envision Botswana and Alice's home most vividly, and was reminded of how the setting of a book can become like a character, so ingrained in a book's plot and resolution. I cared immediately for Isaac's well-being. I was heartbroken when he was transported back to South Africa after such a successful tenure with Alice. It was Alice I struggled with the most. I was invested in her initially, but that began to wane when her romantic flings took center stage in the novel when it was her locating Isaac that I wanted most to see. I wanted her to be as honorable and likable a person as Isaac.

I like that even though I felt sidetracked by her business trip and subsequent romantic relationships, the importance of finding Isaac never changed for Alice. It was that part of the story that kept me quickly turning pages, wanting to know more and see a good outcome for Isaac. The ending, though abrupt and a little vague, did give me, I think, most of the satisfaction I was hoping for.

Three and a half out of five stars

If you liked White Dog Fell from the Sky, you'll like A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and anything by Willa Cather

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