Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein is the third book by the author set, loosely speaking, during World War II. The other two, in order of being written are Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. Black Dove, White Raven is set in Ethiopia before and during the start of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.

Emilia and Teo's lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo's mother died immediately, but Em's survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother's wishes—in a place where he won't be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won't be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

Black Dove, White Raven had a lot less war in it than the other two books I mentioned above. I was expecting more, really, but the war didn’t actually start until something like two thirds of the way through and didn’t really have a strong impact on the main characters until the last quarter or so. It was compelling when it came, I just wasn’t expecting to have to wait so long.

On the other hand, if you’ve been reading Wein’s books for the early aircraft and piloting elements, then this is the book for you. The two main characters are the son and daughter of two female stunt pilots that start off making their living doing daredevil air shows. The women are also best friends (I read them as lovers, but this wasn’t explicitly stated in the text) and closer to each other than to the fathers of their children. Delia is African American and her son’s (Teo’s) father was Ethiopian. After a tragic accident kills her, the other woman, Rhoda, continues to look after both children as her own and relocates the family to Ethiopia.

The story recounts a lot of Teo and Em’s childhood and their lives in Ethiopia before war started. There’s a lot of flying around in the family plane (and eventually when the kids are old enough Rhoda teaches them to fly) and fitting in with the locals after they all learn Amharic. The kids also make up stories to tell each other in which they play Black Dove and White Raven, spies. When things get more serious, we have Teo learning about his father's background and wresting with the issue of seeming to fit in while not fitting in (he always sounds American, whereas Em, the white girl, can speak Amharic like a native). The book deals with the issue of Em's father being Italian while she feels her own allegiance is to Ethiopia (but looks obviously foreign).

I found it a gentler story than the other books of Wein's I read, mostly because the horrible war-related things were confined to the last portion of the book. Not that nothing else bad happened; there were certainly sad and confronting moments. I also ended up reading it over a longer period of time. It wasn't boring but it was much easier to put down than Wein's other books. And some of the times I put it down because there was something else I had to read, but I didn't necessarily pick it straight up again either. I enjoyed the Ethiopian bits, but found the earlier childhood bits slower going. Your mileage may vary. I suspect I also would have enjoyed the book more if I'd known going into it that there wouldn't be much war and that it was mainly about the family's life in Ethiopia. But if you've enjoyed Wein's other books or if the subject matter sounds interesting, I definitely recommend reading Black Dove, White Raven.

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, Disney Book Group
Series: Stand alone but other books written in the same vein.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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