Black Dove White Raven Paperback – 26 Feb 2015
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About the Author
Elizabeth Wein was born in New York, and grew up in England, Jamaica and Pennsylvania. She is married with two children and now lives in Perth, Scotland.
Elizabeth is a member of the Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Women Pilots. She was awarded the Scottish Aero Club's Watson Cup for best student pilot in 2003 and it was her love of flying that partly inspired the idea for her bestselling, award-winning novel Code Name Verity.
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This book tells the story of two best friends named Teo and Em, children of two stunt pilot women, who call their act 'Black Dove, White Raven', due to their differing skin colours. As a result, Em and Teo also name themselves 'Black Dove and White Raven', using these names for their characters in the stories they write, entitled 'The Adventures'.
After Teo's Mother is killed in a tragic accident, Em's Mother, Rhoda, adopts Teo, and moves the whole family to Ethiopia, to live out her best friend's dream of experiencing the African skies.
The first half of the story is about the family settling down in Africa, making new friends, and dealing with the twists and turns that Ethiopian life brings: visiting chapels set into the mountainside, attending sacred festivals, flying their plane all over the country and at the same time, attempting to ignore the threats of impending war.
The second half deals with the war itself, and as Teo and Em get separated, the dual narrative becomes very interesting, as each recounts their own respective struggles in the midst of battle.
The story had a nice but realistic ending, that left me feeling happy and satisfied.
I just loved this book, it was told in such a beautiful way, and the language used was so rich, that I became engrossed in the story of these two young people, discovering this new world, where everyone is equal. I could tell that a lot of research went into the book too, which made it that much more belivable.
Bittersweet and beautiful, this book was a rollercoaster of emotions that had me gripped until the very last page.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Taking place mainly in the 1930s, and told alternately by Em, Teo, and through their fictional Black Dove/White Raven stories in which the fears emerging in their lives take fictional form, this appealing adventure story follows Em and Teo from their earliest memories to the "now" of the threat of Italian invasion, where Rhoda fights for their home and Teo learns a horrifying secret about his father that affects his future. Both children learn to fly from Rhoda, but while Teo is a natural pilot, Em struggles with each flight, until a crisis forces her to face her fears.
Wein paints a lovely portrait of pre-invasion Ethiopia, where modern medicine and respect for native culture co-exist, and of the bond shared by Delia and Rhoda that lasts beyond death and the friendship of Emilia and Teo. Rhoda's unconventional Quaker family is also a compelling factor in the opening chapters of the book. The landscapes are lovingly drawn and, as always in a Wein novel, the magic and majesty of flying has a prominent role. While the situation may not be quite as compelling as CODE NAME VERITY, the characters and setting are unforgettable.
The second remarkable feature of this novel is that all its major characters are beautifully and imaginatively drawn. Em and Teo, as non-traditional siblings and creative soul mates, come fully alive, Teo as the super-smart, quiet, reflective boy, who can make himself almost invisible, and Em as the impetuous and flamboyant girl, exceptionally gifted in her own tomboyish ways. Even in the midst of the most unlikely events, Teo and Em’s characters make full emotional sense to the reader. The friendship between Rhoda and Delia, whose spirit is an inspiration to all of them, is mirrored in that between Em and Teo, giving both relationships extra depth and power. The novel’s other characters include Rhoda’s close Ethiopian friend Sindiku, a nurse who cares for the victims of Italian mustard gas bombs; the old Ethiopian priest Habte Sadek, keeper of some of the most sacred Ethiopian objects of devotion, and the flamboyant African American pilot in Haile Selassie’s service, Horatio Augustus (based on the person of Hubert Julian, who in real life indeed crashed the Emperor’s private plane in a rehearsal of the coronation ceremony).
Wein’s story and characters reveal the destructive power of institutional racism (differently configured, of course) in both the U.S. and Ethiopia, as well as that of colonial aggression and occupation. Individuals cannot fully escape such structures of inequality, Wein’s story suggests. However, they are, at the same time, not fully determined by them and their choices and actions make a real difference resisting and overcoming injustice. This, together with the taken-for-granted, enjoyable, feminism of the characters, makes this an uplifting story.
The novel’s form is a third remarkable feature of this novel, for it allows Em and Teo to tell the whole story through their own writings and in their own voices. These writings include compositions written as homework for their homeschool teacher in Ethiopia and, later, for Em’s mother; diary-like flight logs of their training as pilots, and even fantasy adventure stories (fiction within fiction) in which Teo and Em imagine themselves as the heroic protagonists “Black Dove” and “White Raven.” These fantasy stories, including, for example, “Episode from ‘The Land of Glass,’” (pp. 222-223), and are so imaginative, whimsical, and rich in metaphor that one could love this novel for them alone.
Finally, the image of Ethiopia that emerges from Teo and Em’s descriptions is stunning and rich. The reader can smell the warm, dusty, and smoky air of Addis Ababa by night as the two teenagers walk through the city on their way to Teo’s uncle; and we can see the flat and bare mountain tops, the green and fertile valleys, and the isolated mountain monasteries, as the two young pilots fly their small plane high above it all. Like the Ethiopian landscape, Ethiopian characters such as the bodyguard of a feudal lord, the Ethiopian staff of a small rural clinic, the abbot of a monastery built into a set of caves, the feudal lord in a mountain stronghold, and the Emperor himself, are beautifully and respectfully drawn with a sharp eye for the concrete and the everyday as they impact senses and sentiment.
This reviewer found the form of book’s beginning (respectively, a flight log including a letter to Emperor Haile Selassie by Em, a brief episode of an imaginary adventure story by Teo, and a homework composition by Em) structurally too complex and somewhat off-putting. This might discourage any reader, let alone a young one. However, whoever perseveres beyond the first pages, whether one is 15 or 65 years old, will enjoy this imaginative novel and learn much on the way.
Elizabeth Wein is the author of two other highly acclaimed and prize-winning historical novels for young adults, Code Name Verity (2012) and Rose Under Fire (2013), both set in World War II.
Reviewed by Lidwien Kapteijns, Ph. D., Wellesley College
Published in Africa Access Review (March 11, 2016)
Copyright 2016 Africa Access
I also really enjoyed her characters; all are different and exceptional. Steady Teo, intrepid Em, and protective Rhoda all make their mark on the reader’s hearts. Even Delia has a strong presence, even though she was dead for most the book. She serves as a motivation and driver for the book after that event due to her strong personality early on. The secondary characters also exhibit their own personality traits and quirks, making them remarkable and remember-able to the reader long after reading.
The format of the story was different than I’ve seen used before, but then, I’ve grown to expect that from this author. The story is told in a combination of letters, memories, flight logs, and fictional stories written by Teo and Em. I liked how this gave the story a distinctive feel and flow. The only part I wasn’t that thrilled with was the fictional story parts. As they were written by children, of course their tone and content will be way different than the flight logs and such. But I found myself thrown out of the story more than once trying to digest these pieces in the middle of the others.
Overall, this is a great book looking at a part of WWII that isn’t often explored in WWII literature. Great characters and historical details make this an engrossing read and puts the story into the reader’s hearts hard. The unique format works in most places but not as well in others. Still definitely a book to look at and recommend to lovers of the genre. Another great example of this author’s work as well.