Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Emilia and Teo have always lived unorthodox lives in a free-spirited and unconventional family. Emilia’s Momma is a pilot and a barnstorming performer, as is Teo’s mom, Delia. The two pilots travel the country and perform together as the Black Dove and the White Raven, since Momma Rhoda Menotti is white while Delia is black. Papa Menotti is an Italian aviator, but Emilia and her mom haven’t seen him since Em was a baby. Theo’s father is Ethiopian, and he died in France when the two children were infants. So, Teo and Em have grown up together as brother and sister.

Delia’s dream is for all of them to move to Ethiopia where Teo can grow up without the prejudice and racism that is prevalent in the U.S. in the 1930’s. When tragedy strikes, derailing the dream, the little family is more determined than ever to fly away to Ethiopia, even though things in Africa aren’t all good. Slavery is still legal, although restricted, in Ethiopia, and the European powers of France, Britain, and Italy are squabbling over who will influence and exercise power in the kingdom ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie.

This historical novel, by the author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, was riveting. It’s mostly set in a place I know very little about, Ethiopia, and chronicles events that I knew nothing about. Mussolini’s troops used mustard gas in 1936 on Ethiopian soldiers armed with only spears and on civilians? Emperor Haile Selassie himself fought the Italians, shooting at their planes from the ground? Eight black American aviators tried to go to Ethiopia as military support for the Ethiopians during the Italian invasion, but the U.S. would not approve their passports? There’s lots of other history embedded in the story, but aside from that, it’s just a fine tale of adventure and friendship and war and flying and growing up.

Some of the religious and political ideas of the main characters are debatable, to say the least. But that display of odd and varying opinions and beliefs just made me want to meet the characters in the book and talk to them and really understand their beliefs and attitudes, especially in regard to Christianity, better. Momma Rhoda Menotti grew up in a Quaker family, and her attitude toward marriage and religion is liberal and far from orthodox. Teo finds meaning in the liturgy and practices of the Ethiopian Coptic Church as he watches it in Ethiopia, but he realizes that the Ethiopian church is not his church, since he is really an American despite his having an Ethiopian father. Em is not very religious at all, but she has the best lines in the book in regard to religion, telling Teo when he is having a superstitious moment of blaming himself and God for bad things that happen, “God works through us. Through people doing the right thing. Through you. Through Momma giving you her gas mask and covering you up.” She’s acquired sort of a Quaker/Inner Light attitude toward God and religion.

Anyway, it’s a good book with much fodder for discussion. It’s billed as a YA fiction, but I think it’s essentially an adult book, aside from the fact that the two narrators and protagonists are in their late teens. Certainly, adults, both young and old, can enjoy this between-the-wars story of friendship and resilience.

There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene

In case you hadn’t noticed ther is a LOT of controversy going on these days about international adoption, especially adoptions by U.S. parent of Ethiopian, Liberian, and other African children. Lots of agencies and groups involved in these adoptions are being accused of child-trafficking, stealing children from their parents and extended families to feed an American “obsession” with adoption. In fact, journalist Kathryn Joyce has recently published a book called The Child Catchers which seems to imply, or maybe state outright, that all international adoptions are suspect and akin to child abuse and kidnapping, especially those where the children are adopted into evangelical Christian families.

Melissa Fay Greene’s book, published in 2006, tells the story of one Ethiopian woman, Haregewoin Teferra, and the ups and downs of her “odyssey to rescue Africa’s children.” Ms. Greene also writes about the AIDs crisis in Ethiopia and in Africa, the political situation in Ethiopia, the ethics and difficulties and joys of Ethiopian adoption, and the difficulties of running an impromptu, under-funded, and unregulated orphanage. The book feels balanced and honest.

The best thing about this book is that Ms. Greene, although she obviously admires Haregewoin Teferra, does not idolize her. This journalistic trek through the back alleys of Addis Ababa and the orphanages and adoption agencies of Ethiopia is no hagiographic tribute to Haregewoin, even though she is the central character. It is instead a realistic picture of one woman who tries to help the orphans who are brought to her door, who sometimes makes mistakes, and who ends up helping some and being unable to help others.

“I would watch Haregewoin’s reputation rise and fall like sunrise and sunset. As she blended her life with the lives of people ruined by the pandemic, she became a nobody, like them. Then, she began to be seen as a saint. Then some cried, ‘hey! This is no saint!’ and accused her of corruption. Or maybe she started out as a saint, became a tyrant, then became a saint again. Or was it the reverse? THe story line hanged. But in ever account, no middle ground was allotted to Haregewoin: either she was all good, or she had gone bad. Those who watched, judged her.
Zewedu, her old friend, saw who Haregewoin was: an average person, muddling through a bad time, with a little more heart than most for the people around her who were suffering and half an eye cocked toward her own preservation. But most observers failed to reach this matter-of-fact point of view, and Ato Zewedu probably would not live much longer.
But then I heard, to my delight, that some people say even Mother Teresa herself was no Mother Teresa.”

This. Yes. We are all complicated, sinful, sometimes grace-filled, selfish, well-meaning, compassionate, but also unobservant, people. Some of us manage, by God’s grace, to do something kind and loving for someone else, even for many others, like the orphans Haregewoin helped. Somehow we muddle through and maybe do more good than harm. And God uses our poorest efforts and our mixed motives to serve Him and to serve others and to bring about His will.

If you are considering an international adoption, if you know someone who has adopted children from another country, if you just want to understand the complexities of adoption from the point of view of an adoptive mother and a journalist, read this book. Then read the articles I’ve linked to below for all kind of opinions and stories about international adoption. Some are horror stories; others are stories that inspire hope and sympathy. It’s complicated, but the complications shouldn’t paralyze us.

If God brings an orphan to your door, what can you do but open your home and your heart and let him in somehow?

Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession in Mother Jones magazine.

Evangelicals and Foreign Adoption by Maralee Bradley at Mere Orthodoxy.

Ethiopian Adoption: An Informal Guide by Melissa Fay Greene.

The Common Room and Adoption Advice.

International Adoptions Struggle for Hollywood Endings

Child Sponsorship instead of Adoption.