In the 1930’s, young Emilia Menotti, her African brother Tio, and her mother Rhoda journey to Ethiopia, the last unconquered African country, to fulfill Tio’s mother Delia’s dream, a hope cut short when Delia, the “Black Dove” and one part of a trick flying duo, died during an airplane accident and left Em’s mother, the “White Raven” battered and shaken but alive. After her physical and emotional recovery, Rhoda left her daughter and her new informally adopted son Tio to pursue the possibility of their life in Ethiopia, with the help of her Italian husband, of whom she stays pretty independent. Now, two years later, Emilia and Tio can finally join Rhoda, right as Haile Selassie I becomes Emperor. As they adjust to a new life and a new language, they fall in love with Ethiopia, it’s people, culture, and way of life. But the political situations of the time overshadow this beauty. Tensions with Italy escalate and as a possible invasion looms, Rhoda teaches Em and Tio how to fly their airplane and be their own versions of Black Dove and White Raven and no longer only stories or dreams in a child’s notebook. Tio’s a natural flier, and Em learns with dogged determination but is gifted at navigation. They are a team, but unfortunately, Tio’s blood holds him back from freedom. In an attempt to save Tio and their family, they all choose to sacrifice when Italy finally does invade and the war effort becomes personal.
In another heart-wrenching, well-written historical tale by Wein, a love and kinship between two female aviators, one black and one white, and their children is changed when one mother dies. Despite their difference in heritage, Em and Tio are truly brother and sister. The political tension over the racial difference is palpable in the United States, but in Ethiopia, no one much notices. In Ethiopia, there are still slaves and the economy is very poor. Tio and the Menotti family are suspended on all sides during this conflict, and the resolution causes nail-biting, tears, and blossoming hope. (#toomanyfeels!) Wein does a fantastic job introducing a point of view that doesn’t have much traction in Western literature and inspires a new perspective of diversity. I really enjoyed learning the history of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and their rich heritage while also recognizing the heartbreak that came about for the country during WWII.
For more about the Second Italian-Abyssinian War and Haile Selassie I, you can start with these few links.