Review: Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

black doveA new historical thriller masterpiece from New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Elizabeth Wein.

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes-in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

“Sometimes I feel as if the only thing I can do is write. It helps me think.”

Once again, Elizabeth Wein blew me away not only with her thoughtful and deep examination of history, but also of the amount of emotion and character building she fills her stories with.

I knew barely anything about Ethiopia going in to Black Dove, White Raven and am rather impressed with how much I know now, even though the novel presents only the briefest of glimpses into the country. I learned about its government, its history, its religion, but more importantly, about its culture, which I would love to learn more about. I had thought that this novel was going to be about WWII, having been deceived by it being grouped together with Wein’s other novels: Code Name Verity and Rose Under FireHowever, this book describes the war between Ethiopia and Italy which is an important part of Ethiopian history and was a precursor to WWII. It is a very interesting piece of history.

Alongside the Ethiopian history, is the blacks struggle for equal rights and women’s struggle to be taken seriously by men. It’s mainly told through the lens of flight, which I’d expected. There is a lot about flying in the novel, as most of the characters are pilots. You understand the feeling of freedom they feel while in the air and gain an appreciation for the important role planes play in war. There are also the personal struggles of freedom and identity that the two main characters Em and Teo encounter.

The entire book is told through Em and Teo’s various written works, mainly school reports and flight logs. And in the way that writing often does, a sense of intimacy is created with the characters. The outgoing, dramatic Em, and the quiet thoughtful Teo together provide a fairly balanced version of events, though you know that everything is filtered by their perceptions and can never be one hundred percent accurate. However, their struggles are your struggles while you’re reading and you cry with them both in happiness and sadness. From Em you learn the art of bravery and from Teo a weariness of colonization.

Black Dove, White Raven is also a story of childhood and imagination. Em and Teo grew up playing imagination games and writing story and drawing pictures. And in the way it often does, art reflects life. A few stories from their ‘adventures’ are included and they mirror what is going on in Em and Teo’s lives. I connected with them through their constant and all encompassing game of pretend cause that was pretty much me growing up too. The theme of the power of the writing and art continues to run throughout the story. There are also strong themes of family in the novel, but stronger than that are the bonds of friendship and the importance of being self sufficient.

The ending is left open on a slightly sorrowful, yet also hopeful note and it is so perfect. You jump into the characters lives, watch them for a little, and then leave them when they are entering an uncertain future. Highly recommended.

Other quotes:

“I wish you could go through life without ever caring about anything, without ever getting attached to people and dreams and inaccessible places. It just makes you sad when you can never go back.”

“These are just stories, you know. They are part of what we are, but they are not the real thing. All this year I’ve been thinking, What would White Raven do? And today, every time I thought it, I just didn’t care what White Raven would do. So today I’ve just done what I would do. I’ve just done what I think is right. I’m not going to stop making up stories. But I’m thinking now that they aren’t just for pretending to be someone else, someone more exciting, someone braver than you really are. They are not always jut a maze to get lost in so you can run away from life. They can just as well be maps to help you navigate.”


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