White Dog Fell Fom the Sky (Morse)

White Dog Fell from the Sky
Eleanor Morse, 2013
Viking Adult
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780670026401

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 1976, 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—late 1940s-early 50s
Raised—various places in the Northeast
   and Midwest U.S.
Education—B.A., Swarthmore College; M.F.A.,
   Vermont College
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives near Portland, Maine

Eleanor Morse, a graduate of Swarthmore College, spent a number of years living in Botswana in the 1970s. She earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Vermont College.

Her novel An Unexpected Forest (2007), published by Down East Books, won the Independent Publisher's Gold Medalist Award for Best Regional Fiction in the Northeast U.S. and was also selected as the Winner of Best Published Fiction by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance at the 2008 Maine Literary Awards.

Morse has taught in adult education programs, in prisons, and in university systems, both in Maine and in southern Africa. She currently works as an adjunct faculty member with Spalding University's MFA Writing program in Louisville, Kentucky. She lives on Peaks Island, Maine. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
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.
Louise Ermelino - 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

Morse’s third novel (after Chopin’s Garden) is both brutal and beautiful. ... Medical student Isaac Muthethe flees South Africa after white police murder his friend.... [H]e’s adopted by a persistent white dog and ... and is hired as a gardener by Alice, an American woman in a shell of a marriage.... 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.
Publishers Weekly

Big issues of ecology, politics, borders, race relations, art, and history.

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..... 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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. 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?

2. 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?

3. 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.

4. 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?

5. 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?

6. 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?

7. Alice is a part of a community of white Americans and Europeans working in southern Africa. Are they helping or hurting the native people?

8. 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?

9. 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?

10. 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?

11. 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?

12. Do you have hope for Isaac at the end of the novel?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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