Morse’s third novel (An Unexpected Forest, 2007, etc.) details the overlapping lives of a young black man escaping South African apartheid in 1976, around the time of Stephen Biko's murder, and the white American woman who employs him in Botswana.
As an educated black man, promising medical student Isaac’s life is in increasing danger in South Africa, so he leaves his family, his schooling and his fiancee to flee across the border to neighboring Botswana, where blacks and whites live in relative harmony. He is immediately and irrevocably adopted by the stray, overtly metaphoric dog of the title. Isaac moves in with Amen, a former schoolmate now active in the African National Congress, and Amen’s wife and child in their one-room house. He soon takes a job as a gardener for a white American, Alice, whose husband, Lawrence, is an economist for the Botswana government. Isaac knows nothing about gardening but learns about plants and piping techniques from an elderly African gardener. Alice, who works for the government on land-use policy, soon realizes Isaac is an educated man. A complex and interestingly imperfect character, Alice is uncomfortable with her role as a privileged, mildly neurotic white woman surrounded by need and poverty. After several miscarriages, Alice and Lawrence’s marriage unravels. At emotional loose ends, Alice goes on a working vacation where she falls into a deep but doomed love affair with an older, married Englishman. While housesitting for Alice, Isaac is deported back to South Africa, exactly what he hoped to avoid. When Alice discovers he has disappeared, she reaches out to his family with unexpected results.
Morse brings the natural world of Botswana to vivid life, but her idealization of Isaac and all the black Africans as noble victims does them a disservice by making them two-dimensional in contrast to the three-dimensional whites.