The previous books I’ve read by Elizabeth Wein featured a fascinating mix of Arthurian legend and Ethiopian history, with a level of complexity and maturity unusual for the YA marketing label they were stuck with.
Therefore, I was immediately interested in her newest, ‘Black Dove, White Raven,’ which also has an Ethiopian setting, but takes place over the years following 1930 (the time of Haile Selassie’s coronation.)
The book is in the format of an assemblage of writings by our two young protagonists, Emilia and Teodros, which we immediately learn is to be sent to Haile Selassie by Emilia as an appeal on behalf of Teo. Why is this appeal necessary and what is at stake? That’s why we have to read the book…
The story starts with not Em and Teo, but Rhoda and Delia, their mothers. The two women, each with a young child, had a notorious daredevil barnstorming act; flying a biplane around the United States and doing daring feats of wingwalking. However, life as a ‘mixed-race’ performing act is tough in 1920’s America. The two women form a dream of taking their show further afield – to Ethiopia, where the father of Delia’s child hailed from.
When Delia is killed in a tragic accident, Rhoda adopts her son, and raises Teo and Em as siblings. After an interlude at her Quaker parents’ farm, in the hope of escaping racism for Teo, she decides to follow Delia’s dream and relocate to Ethiopia.
However, once there, not all is as dreamlike as hoped. A combination of a social and legal system ‘out of the sixteenth century’ and the threatened invasion by Italian forces mean the family’s troubles have only started.
The book, although fictionalized, is a great look at a part of WWII (or, technically, the lead-up to WWII) that is often neglected (Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia). It’s also full of amazing details about the early days of flight and the strong and eccentric characters that many of the pilots of that time were.
As a matter of fact, I loved the barnstorming details so much that I left this book really wanting to read an ‘adult’ novel about the original ‘Black Dove, White Raven’ – Rhoda and Delia, their relationship, and how they formed their act and took it on the road. A prequel would be more than welcome!
Instead, this book focuses on the children. It’s really well done. The book succeeds marvelously at depicting true familial love which endures even through suffering, and even though each person in the book is truly their own character, each with a different perspective on life and different goals and dreams.
Many thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book – as always, my opinions are solely my own.