Continuing in the Africa theme for the month of January, I recently read Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein. Like so many people I loved two of Wein’s previous novels (Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire). Like her other novels, Black Dove. White Raven has teenage pilots as the protagonists and takes place around the time of WWII. However, the setting is pre-WWII Ethiopia instead of Europe and one of the two protagonists is a male.
Teo and Em are the children of female stunt pilots who are and also best friends. When Delia, Teo’s mother, dies during a flying accident, Em’s mother fulfills a promise she made to Delia to take him to Ethiopia to raise him. Teo is the son of an Ethiopian father and Delia wants him to grow up away from the open racism she sees in the United States. Initially their new home on a cooperative coffee far is like an idyllic paradise for the family. However, an impending invasion of Ethiopia by Italy sets in motion events that change their lives.
I knew absolutely nothing about Ethiopian history before reading this book. And I realize that I still only know about a tiny sliver of that history. But know I now that there was a Italian-Ethiopian war preceding WWII in which most of the rest of the world failed to intervene because of the fear of escalating tensions in Europe at the time. I know that the Ethiopian church is believed my some to be the home of the actual Ark of the Covenant. I know that slavery was still legal in Ethiopia until 1942. I think one effect of reading is sometimes realizing all the things that I don’t know.
Black Dove, White Raven is a YA novel but the themes and language are as complex as many of the adult fiction books I’ve read. At the same time, although Wein doesn’t shy away from dealing with complex issues like war and slavery, the descriptions aren’t disturbing or graphic. I would be fine with my 12 year old reading it, although I don’t think he would be interested. (He doesn’t love realistic or historic fiction and will only read them as an assignment). It would have been a book I would have greatly enjoyed as a young teen and I would recommend it for middle school or high school students who like historical fiction or strong female characters.