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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven: Powerful Writing, Compelling History

Wow. Once again Elizabeth Wein illuminates history I knew nothing about in her young adult book Black Dove, White Raven. In some ways, this novel combines themes from her two series, The Mark of Solomon and Young Pilots. We’re back in Aksum (Ethiopia), but this is not ancient Aksum. Instead, it’s the 20th century shortly before World War II when Italy invaded Ethiopia. (Did you know about that? I sure didn’t.)

At the start of the book, Black Dove and White Raven are the airshow names for the mothers of Emilia Menotti and Teodros Dupré. Black Dove is Teo’s mother, Delia Dupré, and White Raven is Em’s momma, Rhoda Menotti. They met in France after World War I and traveled around performing at airshows together in 1930's America doing aerobatics and wing-walking. They dream of moving to Ethiopia, where Teo’s father was from, where people won’t be shocked by a black woman and a white woman living and working together.

But then there’s an accident and Delia is killed. The family still makes it to Ethiopia, where Rhoda teaches them to fly. Teo and Em work on becoming the new Black Dove and White Raven. They grow up in Ethiopia, coming of age as Italy invades Ethiopia in 1936.

This book is filled with historical details I knew nothing about, but mostly it’s the compelling story of two children with strong family ties living in another culture. They’re learning to find their place in the world and dealing with all manner of people while coming of age in wartime, a war involving the use of mustard gas against spearmen and the need to protect ancient treasures, including the Ark of the Covenant.

As always, Elizabeth Wein’s writing is powerful and evocative. I’ll admit this is slower, atmospheric reading most of the way through, but these are distinctive characters you will remember long after you finish.

-Sondra Eklund, City of Fairfax Regional Library

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