Book Review: White Dog Fell From the Sky

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On a recent visit to the Monte Casino, I was generally browsing in Skoobs (a really nice bookshop), when I happened to chance upon this book. The title ‘White Dog Fell From the Sky‘ intrigued me and I decided I had to read this book. Ya they got me from the word Dog!

Set in the late 1970’s, the book is about three main characters – Issac Muthethe, a young South African medical student, who had to flee his country in order to prevent getting killed by the Apartheid government. He managed to smuggle himself into Botswana under a hearse. This is where the story starts.

The other character is Alice Mendelssohn, an American who moved to Botswana to marry the man she was now divorced from. Alice is a strong woman who, unlike other expat wives, decides to find work and refuses to be addressed as ‘madam’ by the people who work for her – something that is very difficult to get used to for a black South African, who has suffered greatly under the whites.

The third character is that of the white dog. When Issac is dumped onto the road by the people who helped smuggle him into Botswana, he found the white dog sitting next to his limp body. Since then, the dog has followed Issac like a shadow. One part of me is not convinced that the dog really needed to be in the story but the other part feels that maybe the author wanted to portray hope and love through the dog.

The story goes on to describe how Issac is hired as a gardener by Alice, despite never having worked as one before.  Things seem to be going well for Isaac until the day the South African defense forces ambush the house he was living in and shoot all the people believed to be working for the ANC. Issac manages to live as he was not in the house on the night of the shooting. But later, he was deported back to South Africa by the Botswana police.

Interspersed with Alice’s own life and tragedies, the book is about the pain and suffering of Isaac and his family during the apartheid times, the horrors of South African prisons, the courage of a white South African couple who would not rest until they got Isaac and his siblings out of the country, and the magnanimity of Alice who took Issac’s younger siblings under her wing whilst not giving up hope for Issac’s return to a better life in Botswana.

The author, Eleanor Morse, has described the Kalahari and the bush with great aplomb. Her writing is simple yet riveting. The book is a remarkable portrayal of the tragic lives of two people that were brought together by fate.

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