White Dog Fell from the Sky is not an apt title for Morse's heart felt novel about Alice, a white American living in Botswana and Isaac, a South African who has arrived in Botswana in a hearse. underneath a coffin.
Isaac, a medical student, forced to flee Johannesburg , finds employment as a gardener just as Alice's marriage is ending. This is a love story, but no, not between Isaac and Alice.
Alice has left Cincinnati and married her boy friend who had moved to Botswana . Though the novel fills in a some details about Alice's relationship with her mother, there are few details about why Alice, a PhD student, left the USA. She is at a crossroads in her own life and she just decides that she needs a garden. She kicks her disinterested and philandering husband out and adopts Isaac as her gardener though he has no experience. White Dog seems to have adopted Isaac, also, for no reason.
Alice, who does not wish to be called "Madame " is unusually independent . Of course she bares no prejudices and treats Isaac as an equal. She also accepts kittens which Isaac saves from drowning and Isaac's young siblings. Alice is a remarkable character because she just does. There seems to be no calculations on her part. Although Morse's writing can be beautiful, skillful, I am confused by Alice.
Alice goes to great lengths to save Isaac and care for his family yet, she barely knows him. She is able to live in her house,support her maid and her child, Isaac's sister and brother, and work . Alice's reaction to the children's head lice is the most realistic part of Alice. Even children in private schools in NY get them and there seems to be no way to get rid of them, other than using the lice shampoo and "nitpick comb". As Alice finds, it is an arduous task which can not be put off.
Isaac's incarceration also rings true. Sadly, it reminds me of the horrors I read about in Abu Ghraib. I can not understand why prison guards reduce themselves to criminals against humanity, but the Nazis did, the Japanese did, the South Africans did and so did Americans. Works of fiction, like Room, the Tatoo books, Khaled Hosseni's The Kite Runner, and even The Hunger Game Trilogy describe man's unthinkable acts of terror. Isaac' s body and spirit are broken by the beatings , lack of food, living conditions which are worse than those provided for animals awaiting slaughter.
What bothers me most is that the dog, and Isaac both seem to fall from the sky. White Dog just attached himself to Isaac who had no food and no interest in acquiring a dog. Alice took in Isaac for no particular reason and is totally loyal to him. Why?
I read this book quickly and was definitely caught up in Alice's personal traumas, and Isaac's integrity , skill and his heinous debasement, and the turmoil of South Africa as it fell into a civil war. Yet, I was confused. Maybe it is the damned "dog". I can't figure out her loyalty, her metaphor and her place in the title.
Read this novel, not because of White Dog's loyalty, but because, and now I'm paraphrasing my friend,Steve and his rules: the characters are interesting, the details about South Africa and it's Civil War are spot on, the structure is interesting; the stories move back and forth because, Alice and Isaac live in two different worlds, and there is great skill in the writing. I'm always a skeptic and found Alice's character implausible, not because she couldn't have been so caring, but something just didn't ring true. Therefore I give it four stars and hope that some can explain the dog to me.