I found White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse on a number of ‘must read’ lists for 2013. It was just released in early January and has had some buzz surrounding it. The story is set largely in Botswana and centers on Isaac, an educated, black, political refugee from South Africa during apartheid. He finds a job as a gardener with Alice, a sympathetic American. While Alice is travelling in the north of the country, Isaac goes missing. I won’t reveal more than that.
White Dog Fell From the Sky filled an important void in my literary education as I have read embarrassingly few novels about or set during apartheid in South Africa. While most of White Dog is set in Botswana, South Africa is always lurking in the background as the oppressive other. The fear and shock Isaac displays towards the mixed society that surrounds him in Botswana serves to underline what his life must have been like before he escaped from South Africa.
Although I enjoyed the setting and other aspects of the novel, I also felt it was deeply flawed. In particular, the Alice’s story line was rather meandering and somewhat unnecessary at times. Alice’s marriage troubles and her doomed love affair with an inappropriate older man cluttered what I saw as the main thrust of the novel – Isaac’s plight. These aspects of her life may have been included to explain some of Alice’s later actions, however most of the time I found her story took me away from the point of the novel for too long. On the other hand, it may be that I missed entirely what Morse was trying to achieve. I questioned my understanding of the trajectory of the novel a number of times.
Who would like this book? As with most of the books I’ve been reviewing lately, this book is definitely for someone who likes ‘literature’ as opposed to something a little bit more pedestrian. That is to say, this novel is not an easy read. Morse’s writing style is quite lyrical and the topics she explores move it into a more difficult category.