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Book Review – Black Dove White Raven

February 22, 2015

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, release date 3/31/2015

Black Dove White Raven is the story of Emilia Menotti and Teodros Gedeyon, whose mothers were barnstormers during the 1930’s.  Frustrated with the discrimination Teo and his mother Delia faced as “negroes” in the Jim Crow south, Delia dreamed of someday going to Ethiopia, where Teo’s father was from.  After a terrible accident claims Delia’s life and leaves Teo an orphan, Emmy’s mother Rhoda realizes Delia’s dream and moves them to the African country.

Life in Ethiopia is idyllic at first.  They live on a coffee farm cooperative, where Rhoda works as a nurse in the health clinic.  Rhoda flies the plane that Emmy’s father, himself a pilot in the Italian air force, gives her.  Teo and Emmy learn the local language, run barefoot, and write stories, which Wein uses in a foreshadowing manner.  However, the specter of imperialism falls over Ethiopia, and Teo, Emmy, and Rhoda are caught in the middle of it.  While Mussolini begins to amass Italian troops and planes on the borders of Ethiopia, Rhoda realizes she needs a plan to ensure their safety.  While she has avoided teaching Emmy and Teo how to fly, she comes to see that as a way to save Teo from being forced to serve as an Ethiopian soldier by nature of his father’s heritage, and teaches both of them to be successful pilots.

Elizabeth Wein has written a story full of paradoxes.  Emmy and Teo themselves, one white and one black, live as brother and sister.  Rhoda, raised as a Quaker, finds herself in the midst of a war zone.  Ethiopia, proud of its history as the lone African nation to escape colonization, comes under attack from Italy.  Delia’s dream to escape discrimination realized, only to subject Teo to something far more unjust.

Wein manages to write about familiar subjects in a setting that transforms them into something new.  Although the build-up to the central conflict is a bit long, it is worth it in the end.  And while the ending is satisfying, it illustrates the true cost of war, and manages to leave the reader with lingering questions:  what is Rhoda’s ultimate fate; what happens to Teo and Emmy; what is the true nature of Rhoda and Delia’s relationship?  In the end, Black Dove White Raven is another beautifully told story that I would recommend to students.

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