Cover image for Book Club kit : White dog fell from the sky
Book Club kit : White dog fell from the sky
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Viking, 2013.

Physical Description:
8 bks (354 pages ) ; 24 cm + 1 discussion guide
A portrait of 1970s Botswana is told through the intertwined stories of three people, including a medical student who is forced to flee apartheid South Africa after witnessing a murder and an American Ph. D. student who abandons her studies to follow her husband to Africa.


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On Order



An extraordinary novel of love, friendship, and betrayal for admirers of Abraham Verghese and Edwidge Danticat

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.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Morse's third novel (after Chopin's Garden) is both brutal and beautiful. Set in the late 1970s, in Botswana and South Africa, it explores the strength of friendship, the bonds of love, and the inhumanity regimes are capable of inflicting upon individuals. Medical student Isaac Muthethe flees South Africa after white police murder his friend. Dumped in a field across the border in Botswana with nothing, he's adopted by a persistent white dog and runs into an old schoolmate, Amen, now working with the MK, the military wing of the South African ANC. Staying with Amen, he wanders further into town, into the Old Village, the dog always with him, and is hired as a gardener by Alice, an American woman in a shell of a marriage. Their friendship grows, along with the garden, and the ever-present White Dog. Alice, upon learning of her husband's infidelity, splits from him and travels into the bush for her job with the Ministry of Local Government and Lands, where she meets and falls for the unpredictable Ian Muethe. When she returns, she discovers that South African police crossed the border, raided her home, and took Isaac away. White Dog hasn't stopped waiting for his return. Refusing to abandon the dog, Alice goes in search of Isaac. Botswana, South Africa, and the loyal White Dog are characters as important and well-drawn as Alice and Isaac. Morse's unflinching portrayals of extremes of loyalty and cruelty make for an especially memorable novel. Agent: Jane Gelfman, Curtis Brown, U.K. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Morse's third novel (An Unexpected Forest, 2007, etc.) details the overlapping lives of a young black man escaping South African apartheid in 1976, around the time of Stephen Biko's murder, and the white American woman who employs him in Botswana. As an educated black man, promising medical student Isaac's life is in increasing danger in South Africa, so he leaves his family, his schooling and his fiancee to flee across the border to neighboring Botswana, where blacks and whites live in relative harmony. He is immediately and irrevocably adopted by the stray, overtly metaphoric dog of the title. Isaac moves in with Amen, a former schoolmate now active in the African National Congress, and Amen's wife and child in their one-room house. He soon takes a job as a gardener for a white American, Alice, whose husband, Lawrence, is an economist for the Botswana government. Isaac knows nothing about gardening but learns about plants and piping techniques from an elderly African gardener. Alice, who works for the government on land-use policy, soon realizes Isaac is an educated man. A complex and interestingly imperfect character, Alice is uncomfortable with her role as a privileged, mildly neurotic white woman surrounded by need and poverty. After several miscarriages, Alice and Lawrence's marriage unravels. At emotional loose ends, Alice goes on a working vacation where she falls into a deep but doomed love affair with an older, married Englishman. While housesitting for Alice, Isaac is deported back to South Africa, exactly what he hoped to avoid. When Alice discovers he has disappeared, she reaches out to his family with unexpected results. Morse brings the natural world of Botswana to vivid life, but her idealization of Isaac and all the black Africans as noble victims does them a disservice by making them two-dimensional in contrast to the three-dimensional whites.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

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.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist

Library Journal Review

In 1976, South Africa's apartheid policy forces medical student Isaac Muthethe to leave family behind for the shelter of a more democratic Botswana. There he encounters two people who will alter the trajectory of his well-planned life. Hired by idealistic American Alice Mendelssohn, Isaac becomes a trusted gardener and caretaker. Alice, traveling on government business, embarks on a passionate affair with the older, charismatic Ian, a man whose love of Africa matches her own, while Isaac becomes involved with a friend from home, now a member of the South African resistance. When two acts of violence, one natural and one human-made, put a cruel end to the dreams of each character, the infinite, healing power of love is put to the test. VERDICT Recipient of a Best Regional Fiction in the Northeast award for An Unexpected Forest, 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. Like Vaddey Ratner's In the Shadow of the Banyan or Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls, this is for readers unafraid to plumb the depths of human emotion.-Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.