Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
|Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: In the 1930s, two friends learn to fly before going on tour with a daredevil flying act. Extraordinary? Not really – not, that is, until you realise they're both women, and worse still, one is white and one black. After a terrible accident the surviving woman travels with their two children to Ethiopia where they get caught up with Haile Selassie and the war with Italy.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 484||Date: February 2015|
|Publisher: Electric Monkey|
|External links: Author's website|
The essential role of aviators in the success or failure of modern war is a given, and fiction is full of the derring-do and dog-fight exploits of moustachioed heroes waving their trade-mark silk scarves as they land their frail and battered craft at a friendly airstrip. But what if the enemy planes outnumber those of your country by hundreds, if not thousands, and you, the pilot, are barely out of your childhood?
This is the thrilling premise of this superlative book, which people confidently expect to be one of the big hits of the year – a bold claim seeing how early in the year it was published, but nonetheless valid. Teo's mother Delia dies in a horrific flying accident and her flying partner fulfils their dream by taking the boy and her own child Emilia to Ethiopia. It is a wild and beautiful land and Teo and Em, who spend their days making up stories and adventures together, soon feel at home there while Momma earns their keep by transporting goods and medical supplies across the mountains and taking photos for travel magazines. Due to its geography many places in Ethiopia have always been well-nigh inaccessible and so the country has succeeded in preserving its secrets and mysteries. But now the new-fangled plane is intruding, landing anywhere it can find a few hundred yards of flat earth. Momma and the children show respect for the ancient customs, refusing to pry into the hidden places where ancient relics rest in closely guarded caves, but others are not so honourable. And so Ethiopia, the only African nation never to be colonised, finds itself squarely in the sights of Mussolini, and Momma, who has always refused to teach the children to fly, is forced to do so by the threat of war. It's a decision which could save their lives – or kill them all.
This could easily have been a dry account of what many consider the opening gambit of World War Two, but the opposite is true. The book is a collection of pieces sent to Emperor Haile Selassie, spanning several years and written by both Emilia and Teo as they observe and are eventually forced into the struggle for their beloved home – a struggle in which the white Europeans frequently show themselves to be self-serving and underhand. There are heart-in-the-mouth flights across uncharted plains, with Italian bombers at the rear and unforgiving mountain peaks ahead. Laughter and simple uncomplicated affection sit side by side with tragedy as the two youngsters, as close as any brother and sister, lose each other in the chaos and experience the tragedies of death and destruction that war inevitably brings. An attack on a clearly marked Red Cross base by the European invaders will remain long in the memory because Ms Wein skilfully first allows us to get to know, and to become fond of, the victims, and an intriguing essay at the end of the novel she reminds us that while this book is fiction it is closely based on true accounts and real people. Mussolini, for example, is reputed to have shown no hesitation in ordering the use of mustard gas and bombs on defenceless hospital workers and children, both European and Ethiopian.
It's thrilling and scary, and at the same time it's moving and lyrical. You will finish this book feeling you have come to know a wonderful country, two courageous young people and a struggle which, odds on, you were barely aware of before. You will laugh and gasp, and maybe even cry a little. What more could you ask of a book?
You won't need quite as many boxes of tissues for this wonderful book as you might for [Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein|Code Name Verity] and [Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein|Rose Under Fire], both by the same author. Nonetheless, all three are equally powerful and deserve – no, demand - to be read.
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