Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Scribner. Sept. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9781982110338. $27;. F
Zimbabwean author Gappah’s second novel (after The Book of Memory) presents the story of David Livingstone’s posthumous journey from central Africa to the coast, told through the eyes of the Africans who made the arduous trek with his preserved body. The two primary narrators are Halima, the expedition’s cook, who never tires of telling the rest of the company about her earlier life in the court of a sultan, where her mother was a concubine; and the pious Jacob Wainwright, rescued from enslavement and educated by missionaries as a child, who keeps a diary in the style of Pilgrim’s Progress and dreams of being ordained so that he can save the souls of his African brethren. As months pass, the company faces disease, different communities (some amicable, others violent), and the internal conflicts endemic to a large group that includes a variety of ethnicities, religions, ambitions, and grudges.
VERDICT Gappah decolonizes the legend of Dr. Livingstone by turning the tale inside out, giving voice to those who are overlooked, or dealt with dismissively, in the official narratives. The result is an indictment of the legacy of slavery and colonialism that is also an engrossing adventure story. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/19.]

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