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Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Petina Gappah

ONE OF THE GUARDIAN’S 2020 FICTION HIGHLIGHTS: Petina Gappah’s epic journey through nineteenth-century Africa is ‘engrossing, beautiful and deeply imaginative.’ (Yaa Gyasi)

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ONE OF THE GUARDIAN’S 2020 FICTION HIGHLIGHTS: Petina Gappah’s epic journey through nineteenth-century Africa is ‘engrossing, beautiful and deeply imaginative.’ (Yaa Gyasi)

This is the story of the body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, the explorer David Livingstone – and the sixty-nine men and women who carried his remains for 1,500 miles so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own country.

The wise men of his age say Livingstone blazed into the darkness of their native land leaving a track of light behind where white men who followed him could tread in perfect safety. But in Petina Gappah’s radical novel, it is those in the shadows of history – those who saved a white man’s bones; his dark companions; his faithful retinue on an epic funeral march – whose voices are resurrected with searing intensity.

This final, fateful journey across the African interior is lead by Halima, Livingstone’s sharp-tongued cook, and three of his most devoted servants: Jacob, Chuma and Susi. Their tale of how his corpse was borne out of nineteenth-century Africa – carrying the maps that sowed the seeds of the continent’s brutal colonisation – has the power of myth. It is not only symbolic of slavery’s hypocrisy, but a portrait of a world trembling on the cusp of total change – and a celebration of human bravery, loyalty and love.

Critic Reviews

A wise and funny novel ... A wonderful creation ... A spirited, illuminating take on a story I thought I knew, but did not know at all.

Times (Book of the Month)
Critic Reviews

It’s a captivating premise for a novel that despite its Faulknerian DNA is entirely Gappah’s own ... Some of Wainwright’s sections are marvels of verisimilitude ... Counterbalancing this mimetic quality, Halima’s observations sweep towards an aching lyricism ... What the novel achieves through the intersection of these jostling narratives is a stripping back of Livingstone’s legacy ... [An] ambitious, meticulously researched work [with] a critical understanding of the usefulness of fiction for filling in history’s gaps.

Sara Collins, Guardian [Book of the Day]
Critic Reviews

Engrossing, beautiful, and deeply imaginative, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, is a novel that lends voice to those who appeared only as footnotes in history, yet whose final, brave act of loyalty and respect changed the course of it. An incredible and important book by a masterful writer.

Yaa Gyasi
Critic Reviews

Mixing painstaking research with a formidable imagination, Petina Gappah resurrects this brave, misguided, heroic, and ill-starred party ... Her narrators, a hilarious cook named Halima and a sanctimonious Christian named Jacob, cut a swath through a continent at the crossroads of colonization, superstition, religion and slavery, illuminating the contradictions inherent in every life. This is a beautiful novel.

Anthony Doerr
Critic Reviews

Out of Darkness, Shining Light describes a world on the cusp of change ... Petina Gappah knows what she writes; her historical and cultural insights add texture and veracity to every page. A powerful novel, beautifully told, Out of Darkness, Shining Light reveals as much about our present circumstances as the past that helped create them.

Jesmyn Ward
Critic Reviews

A rollicking novel that retells the history of British colonial exploration in Africa from the perspective of historical figures who have otherwise been silenced ... Gappah captures the diverse cultural milieu of colonial Africa with compelling detail. The result is a rich, vivid, and addictive book filled with memorably drawn characters. This is a humane, riveting, epic novel that spotlights marginalized historical voices.

Kirkus (Starred Review)

Petina Gappah is an international lawyer and writer who was born in Kitwe, Zambia and raised in Zimbabwe. She is the author of An Elegy for Easterly, The Book of Memory and Rotten Row. Her work has shortlisted for, among others, the Orwell Prize, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN America…

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