Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein – Book Review

Usually my go to subgenre that I enjoy the most is secondary world fiction, because I like to be taken away to a different world. But often historical fiction set in far away countries can do the same thing, and this one takes you away to Ethiopia.

The main characters are a boy and a girl growing up together, who’s mothers, Rhoda and Delia, were the best of friends. Em’s father is largely absent, and Teo’s father died of an illness when he ws young, and so the two women have a sort of little combined family. The fact that one mother was white and the other was black never bothered them or their mothers, except when they reach America, where racism was what it was in the thirties.

The mothers are both pilots, and they’re a two-woman travelling flying circus, one flying, the other wing-walking. All this changes though after a bird strike kills Teo’s mother. That particular scene was heartbreaking to read – the  whole story is told in the form of journal entries, flight log entries and letters written by the two children, and that scene, as it’s written, it’s so brief, as if they’re too heartbroken to dwell on it or put in any more detail.

To honour Delia’s dream, Rhoda takes both children to Teo’s father’s home country, Ethiopia.

It’s one of those books that paint a beautiful picture of a beautiful place, and I got settled into loving their new home, Beehive Hill. The descriptions of Christianity as it exists in Ethiopia was facinating, because it like nothing we’re familiar with in the west. It’s a branch of Christianity that split off before Catholicism existed, so while everything we’re familiar with is a product Catholicism’s evolution, the Coptic church is just completely different.

At this point in history, slavery in Ethiopia still exists too, with complicated laws governing it. In order to prevent a sudden economic crisis, it’s being phased out slowly, via various ways of slaves being freed.

All the while, news on the radio foreshadows the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

There’s something eerie about reading a story set in a place that exists though, and events that actually happened, even if the characters themselves are invented. I almost hate Italians now, have read about how they invaded Ethiopia, with the intention of pushing the Ethiopians out and take their land, to settle poor Italians there the way other countries settled their poor in the Americas. And how they used mustard gas to do it.

At about the half way point, I had to remind myself this is an author who kills main characters sometimes, so when the invasion started, I bit my lip to keep reading, not sure how many of these characters would make it out alive. I bet she feels magnanimous when she lets characters live.

Overall, wonderful book; if you like historical fiction and planes, definitely pick it up.