Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

I listened to the audio version of this book during my long daily walk, and enjoyed the thought that I was walking “with” Livingstone’s corpse bearers.  The pace of this book is slow, but we need the time to appreciate the developing stories of Halima, Livingstone’s cook, and Jacob Wainwright, his assistant.  Both of them were detached from their previous lives to serve on the Livingstone explorations, and both of them act as involved observers of Livingstone, Stanley, and the African members of the exploration party.

The book opens with Livingstone’s death, so we only know him through his journal entries and the memories of Halima and Wainwright.  In some ways, he is peripheral to the story, though, which is primarily about the rest of the people who task themselves with returning Livingstone’s body to England. The group, mostly made up of freed slaves, is a complicated, multi-cultural cast, each with his or her own reasons for making the journey.

This book was enjoyable as a carefully researched historical novel, but also as a story of the many ways people deal with adversity.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I knew of David Livingstone, but not much more than his name and that he was a missionary. Out of Darkness, Shining Light sheds, well, light on Livingstone's life and death. I always enjoy historical fiction which fleshes out a real life character and Gappah does a great job of this.
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Unable to read and review by publication date due to other commitments, Will update immediately upon completion.  Thank you NetGalley and Publisher,
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I have hesitated to write a review for this one because I was so disappointed. It was dry and without feeling, overwrought, and unimaginative. This could have been an amazing story. Instead it was "meh."
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As much as I anticipated this novel, I wasn't particularly thrilled with it.

I found the book too slow-going for my tastes. There isn't anything wrong with a slow book, but the slowness of this didn't feel fulfilling in the end.
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The book is well researched, but was another one I had to force myself to finish. It just plodded along. 

While at first I thought the structure would be interesting, told as diary excerpts from two different members of the caravan, it actually seemed to stunt the story.

I usually enjoy historical fiction as I learn so much, I had high hopes for this one as I knew very little about Dr. Livingstone, I still don't.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion
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“Out of Darkness, Shining Light” (ODSL) is as authentic a read as there ever was.  Steeped in research and study, ODSL infuses the reader with an interest in Doctor David Livingstone, his African adventures, and the loyal souls who accompanied him on his expedition.  ODSL focuses on the part of the harrowing journey after Livingstone’s death when the decision is made to return Livingstone’s body to his beloved Great Britain.  The dialogue feels real.  The internal and external personal struggles confronted by the travelers with the issues of slavery, political governance, and foreign influences feel genuine.  ODSL is heavy with drama and interpersonal relationships.  Lacking though are descriptions about the subjects’ surroundings.  There are few references to the wilds through which they traveled.  Be forewarned too, there is a glossary of terms used by the author in the back of the book.  Use the glossary as you read to decipher the often weighty dialogue of the story instead of waiting until the end. 

ODSL receives 3.5 stars rounded up to a 4 from this reviewer.  Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for this honest review.  And finally, don’t “presume” you know the story about Doctor Livingston.  Read ODSL.
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I feel like my review of this book has been summed up by a fellow reviewer: "a beautiful depiction of personal sacrifice, love and loyalty." It was absolutely gut-wrenching. It's not the kind of book I normally pick up -- admittedly, I often go for "escapist" books -- rom-coms or thrillers that help me forget about the toughness of the world around me, instead of confronting it. I'm glad this book made me confront it. I won't forget about it soon.
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I received this from Netgalley.com for a review.

“This is how we carried out of Africa the poor broken body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, David Livingstone, so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own land.”

This book just didn't grab my imagination. The story is very densely packed and I was disappointed that Livingstone didn't play a more prominent part of the tale.

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I’m rather torn about this review because, while the idea of transporting Dr. David Livingstone’s body home to England is interesting, I didn’t enjoy the book very much. Maybe it just didn’t meet my expectation that this would be more of an adventure story. Livingstone was obsessed with finding the source of the Nile.  This book deals with the last few months of his life, when he was sick, and the subsequent trek across Africa that was undertaken by his servants in order to return his body (or at least part of it) and his research papers to England. En route, there was a lot of bickering, threats from men and animals, romantic liaisons, jealousy, hunger and deaths. The story is divided into sections from the points of view of Livingstone’s cook Halima and Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave who had been educated in India. 

I have no idea how much of this story is accurate, but It certainly felt like the author did a lot of research and she shared all of it. There were too many names of people, tribes, regions and titles and many of them had multiple names.  I couldn’t keep track of it all:  “...the four most fearsome traders, who are Casembe, Mirambo, Kumbakumba, and Tippoo Tip.”  But it turns out that “Casembe” is a title not a name.  There is also another warrior group called the Mazitu, but they are also called Maviti, Madzviti, Matuta or Watuta.  I don’t know the reason for telling me all of this, other than to cause maximum confusion.  In a history book, I’d accept it, but in fiction - no.  You don’t need to tell me about every bit of research you’ve done. 

The Halima part of the book felt like a children’s story. The book picked up for me in the second part, narrated by the smug, self righteous, fanatically Christian Jacob. I didn’t hate or love the book. 3.5 stars which I have rounded up for the glimpse into Africa in the 1870s. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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With many thanks to Scribner Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of Petina Gappah’s newest work,; Out of Darkness, Shining Light. In exchange for the ARC I offer my unbiased review.

Having read and loved The Book of. Memory , a previous novel by Petina Gappah, I was very excited to read an advanced copy of her upcoming  novel. All the elements I look for in a historical fiction seemed to be present: location, era, real life people & events, local flavor and a story I was not familiar with. This book follows the journey of Dr. David Livingstone’s body as his loyal team of everyday African men, women and children trek over 1,000 miles by foot to  return Dr. Livingstone home to England for a proper burial. 

I wish this book was five stars but I found the writing very detached and therefore I never fully immersed myself in the story. I was often bored and skimming pages. I’ think had I read this book during the cozier winter months, I may have found my rhythm but ultimately this book just never captured my full attention. . Overall, this was just an okay read.
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For me, a 5-star book must be memorable. I must be certain, at first reading, that I will want to read it again and again, and will recommend it widely. It must be like nothing I've ever read before.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light qualifies on all counts. I would urge it on friends even though they avoid historical fiction -- it's that universal, transcendent and timeless.

Seen through the eyes of the African crew who accompanied David Livingstone on his obsessive trek through the Dark Continent, this book begins with Livingstone's death. It follows the journey from the interior to the coast, with his servants carrying his equipment, his papers and his body, for eventual return to the United Kingdom.

The book was meticulously researched (and it showed), but what made it stand out were the imaginative leaps the author took in giving voice to Halima, Livingstone's native cook. I also loved the perspective each religious group had on the others: "Mohammedan", "Kristuman", Papist and pagans or non-believers.

Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for an advance readers copy.
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Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah’s new book, “Out of Darkness, Shining Light” fits into that category of novel occupied by Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea” and Laila Lalami’s “The Moor’s Account,” where a familiar story is told from the point of view of some of its marginalized participants. In this case, the story is Dr. David Livingstone’s travels and death in Africa, and the transportation of his body overland to the sea by the Africans in his retinue so that it could be returned for burial in Britain. Gappah chooses two different narrators for her book—a slave named Halima who is Dr. Livingstone’s cook, and the missionary-educated, English-speaking Jacob Wainwright, who dreams of becoming a missionary himself. I preferred the voice of the feisty and sharp-tongued Halima, who narrates the first section of the book detailing the events leading up to Livingstone’s death: “They say, oh, Halima, you talk too much. Well, I may talk too much, but I have more than a tongue in my head. I have eyes too.” Halima does see things, in fact, that the self-righteous Jacob, who fancies himself more intelligent than anyone else in Livingstone’s expedition, is blind to, and although I missed Halima’s singular voice once the pious Jacob takes over the narrative, it is this dissonance between what Halima has intuited and foreseen at the beginning of the novel and what Jacob trusts and reports during his section that gives the book a lot of its tension. (And Halima does return at the end of the novel in a very satisfying postscript of sorts.)

Gappah has certainly done her research—this book was 20 years in the making and it shows in every meticulous and colorful detail she drops along the path Livingstone’s corpse was carried. I wanted to read this initially to fill in the gaps of my understanding of David Livingstone, his explorations in Africa, and his famous meeting with Henry Morton Stanley, and I wasn’t disappointed in that, but it was the immersion in Africa and its people—and the depiction of the human cost of slavery and colonialism by those who had suffered both—that for me was the unexpected pleasure and the real story of “Out of Darkness, Shining Light.” I look forward to reading Gappah’s earlier books and to seeing what she has planned for the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC of this book in return for my honest review.
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I ventured into this novel with no knowledge of the author and zero expectations and let me tell you, Out of Darkness, Shining Light is a brilliant piece of literature.  Traveling through 19th-century Africa, we embark on men and women who deliver the body of Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone 1,500 miles from Zambia to Zanzibar. I have never read anything like this, Gappah masterfully crafts to voices to guide us Halima, a strong opinioned woman (I loved her) and then we have Jacob Wainwright (he was my least favorite) who’s goal is to be ordained and convert everyone to Christianity. 

For the time era this novel is based in, it gave me a bit of everything, colonization, women’s enslavement, faith and even some comic relief. I adored this novel. 

Thank you Scribner & NetGalley for gifting this DARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The fascinating story of the expedition to carry David Livingstone's body to the sea so he could be buried at Westminster Abbey in England. The plaque on his grave says, "Brought by faithful hands over land and sea here rests David Livingstone, missionary traveller, philanthropist, born March 19, 1813, at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, died May 1, 1873, at Chitambo's Village, Ulala."
Gappah in her Acknowledgements indicates that she spent almost twenty years writing this book. Her research shines as we find ourselves immersed in the journey to the sea. We view life with the Livingstone and the labor of love through two lenses. Halima, the cook, gives us the native view and her perspective is full of Swahili references (glossary included in the back of the book) and peppered with humor. Jacob Wainwright is the earnest servant who delivers his story to the accompaniment of "Pilgrim's Progress." The two rarely agree, but the narrative is all the richer due to their contributions. This new novel is a memorable and inspiring tale that you will not soon forget.

Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Petina Gappah’s novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, begins oddly with the death of David Livingstone, the great explorer missionary. The novel, that reads like nonfiction, tells the story of his African companions, sixty-nine women, men, and children, traveling more than 1,000 miles over a course of nine months. This extraordinary commitment takes Livingstone’s body to the sea and back to England for burial. 

The narrative begins with the voice of Halima, his cook, “This is how we carried out of Africa the poor broken body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, David Livingstone, so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own land.” Halima recounts the beginnings as the group debates how to remove his heart for burial in Africa and dry his body to make travel with it less complicated. Her simple folk wisdom permeates her portrayal of the relationships and competitiveness among the group. 

Jacob Wainwright, a self-righteous freed slave, picks up the narrative for the trip. Full of his own importance and free to excuse what the reader will see as flaws in his character, he remains committed to leading the group to get Dr. Livingstone’s maps, papers, and body back to England. Along the way, both narrators reveal Livingstone’s two obsessions, the search for the beginning of the Nile River and the abhorrence he feels for slavery. Each of them gives a conclusion for their own journey when the mission is accomplished.

Trading between the two voices, Petina’s writing shifts into each personality, yet remains lyrical. Based on much research to be found in the bibliography, the book reads like carefully woven nonfiction and leaves the reader feeling every mile of the journey and every emotional turn of events. It is not a light read but a good one.
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Zero stars

I just cannot. I tried, I really did [I rarely give up on a book before 100 pages], and I just cannot. There are too many characters, there is too much jumping around, there is just too much I am not understanding. I am completely bored. I just cannot finish. And I a very, very, disappointed. This was one book I was truly looking forward to reading. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Out of Darkness, Shining Light tells the story of the return of Dr. Livingstone's body to England. I didn't know a lot about Dr. David Livingstone before this novel, but I can tell that the author did a ton of research for this book. The group of loyal servants mummified his body after his death, and march his body over 1,000 miles to return it to his homeland. This is not a fast paced book, it is completely immersive in its task, which is a journey story. A journey story that discusses what it's like to walk and carry a body over 1,000 miles. Also, they didn't only bring his body back, but his journals. Journals, which helped to make David Livingstone still known today. It was also interesting to see through the eyes of Halima and Jacob as they are two very different characters. They were well written and compelling.

I would recommend this for people interested in Livingstone, anthropology, and history.

Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for providing an e-ARC in exchange for a free review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Beautifully researched and beautifully written. It really gives you a sense of time and place. The book moves along slowly so I took my time with it.
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What an amazing story! Out of Darkness, Shining Light is the story of how David Livingstone’s body was carried across the African continent by those who has accompanied him on his journey while alive. Told through the words of Halima, his cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave, with extracts from the doctor’s own journals framing each chapter, the novel depicts a heroic adventure that has never been told in such a manner before. 

Petina Gappah writes beautifully, and created two very distinct voices in the novel. This in turn provides the reader with a well-rounded overview of the journey, a more personal account from Halima’s side, a drier, more technical account from Jacob Wainwright’s. The novel is a story of loyalty and love, but also a real insight into the intricacies of the African slave trade, the roles of countries such as the UK and the US, and the legacies of colonialism. Yes, it is historical fiction, but it is based on years and years of research and true stories, and it is incredibly important to read these types of narratives. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy, and to Petina Gappah for the beautiful novel. A must read.
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