Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

2.5 stars, rounded down
Another book where I’m in the minority.  This is the story of David Livingstone, both his life and death while searching for the origin of the Nile.  Told to us by Halima, his “sharp tongued” cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave turned Christian convert, we get two vividly contrasting stories.   But both stories capture not only the unique relationship between Bwana Daudi and the blacks that were on his expedition, but also the relationship between the English and the Africans.  I especially appreciated Halima trying to understand the Christian religion, as Livingstone tried to convert various people.  Jacob, on the other hand, comes across as the typical religious zealot finding fault with everyone.  

This is not a fast moving story.  In fact, I found it slow as molasses.  Described as being about the trip to take his body back to the coast so it can be returned to England, half the book is gone before the trip even begins. 

Gappah does an admirable job of giving us a great sense of time and place. Her research shines through.  But it was just too dense and slow for my taste.  

My thanks to netgalley and Scribner for an advance copy of this book.
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The setting:

"...story of the loyal men and women who carried explorer and missionary [Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, David] Dr. Livingstone's body, his papers and maps, fifteen hundred miles across the continent of Africa, so his remains could be returned home to England and his work preserved there. Narrated by Halima, the doctor's sharp-tongued cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a rigidly pious freed slave..."

A tough read because at least at the beginning,  the introduction of SO MANY CHARACTERS and SO MUCH FOREIGN TERMINOLOGY is offputting [there is a 6-page glossary at the end but it is a downfall of an ebook that one cannot flip to the back readily]. So. It took me quite a while to get into the rhythm of the book and not mix up all the characters. But eventually I did though it was a process.

The journey through the various tribal territorries that met with many challenges made for interesting reading. I most enjoyed Halima [particularly at the end when she finally was able to enjoy her door], but I found Jacob Wainwright the most intriguing "character"--and that terminology is intended. I thought that for all his intelligence, he often was clueless.

For me, this was a slow read. Often dark. And the only instance with humor was a description of a hairwash--the villagers thought Livingstone's "...brains came out when he washed his hair,, then went back in again... it was only the soap he used that created white suds that looked like they had come from within him."

Chock full of details. No wonder this book was 20 years in the making. Gappah says that she conducted more than 10 years of historical research.

Recommend if you are willing to persevere. Hint: Pay attention to the italics/paragraph at the beginning of each chapter.
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Petina Gappah’s novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, is based on the true story of David Livingstone‘s last (posthumous) journey. When Livingstone died in Ujiji (in what is now western Tanzania) in 1873, the members of his expedition buried his heart there before preserving the rest of his body and carrying him to Zanzibar so that it can be shipped back to the United Kingdom. Gappah’s narrators are pulled from the pages of Livingstone’s journal and from the journal written by a European-educated African man who joined Livingstone shortly before the explorer’s death. Halima, Livingstone’s cook, and Jacob Wainwright could not be more different—making for a tale that is often as humorous as it is harrowing.

Halima narrates the first third and part of the last section of Out of Darkness, Shining Light. Halima was born into slavery in Zanzibar, passed from one master to another, before she was purchased by Livingstone as a cook and “traveling woman” for one of his male employees. Through Halima’s story, we see the great man in more humble circumstances and at his less glorious moments. When Livingstone dies, her goal is to make sure she gets what she was promised: her freedom and a house of her own, at long last. She has a delightfully wicked sense of humor that I relished. I enjoyed her voice so much that I wished she had a larger part in this book.

Jacob Wainwright is not pragmatic. His goals are impossible (converting the entire continent). Most of all, he doesn’t see things as clearly as Halima. The only exception—and one of the more interesting parts of his narrative, to me—are his views on Livingstone. To white people, Livingstone is a great hero. No one looks too closely at his day-to-day actions. Wainwright is dismayed by Livingstone’s participation in the slave trade and his practice of having women accompany the expedition to keep the men “happy.” Wainwright is more upset, however, by Livingstone’s almost complete failure to evangelize. Wainwright’s deepest wishes to be a missionary unfortunately blind him to a lot of bad behavior.

Halima’s perspective shows us how Africans and African Arabs and Europeans have adapted to each other’s presence, while not glossing over the horrors of slavery and racism. Wainwright’s perspective reads as very European; I would diagnose him with an inferiority complex. Instead of hanging on to his own heritage, Wainwright tried to remake himself and remake every other African he encounters. In her author’s note, Gappah references The Scramble for Africa, a non-fiction book by Thomas Pakenham, that recounts the history of rapid colonialization at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. In Halima and Wainwright, I saw some of the same struggle for hearts, minds, and bodies.

While I wish there had been more Halima and less Wainwright in this book, I was fascinated by the interplay of their perspectives. I was also hooked by all the historical detail Gappah put into this novel—the names of peoples and places that don’t exist anymore, a novel that gives voice to Africans without a white person taking over. Out of Darkness, Shining Light is an amazing journey.
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“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.” So begins Petina Gappah's powerful novel of exploration and adventure in nineteenth-century Africa—the captivating story of the loyal men and women who carried explorer and missionary Dr. Livingstone's body, his papers and maps, fifteen hundred miles across the continent of Africa, so his remains could be returned home to England and his work preserved there. Narrated by Halima, the doctor's sharp-tongued cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a rigidly pious freed slave, this is a story that encompasses all of the hypocrisy of slavery and colonization—the hypocrisy at the core of the human heart—while celebrating resilience, loyalty, and love.

An excellent historical novel that focuses on the men and women who, carrying David Livingstone’s body, marched 1500 miles across central Africa to the coast so that his remains could be returned to England. It casts a sharp eye on slavery and colonization while telling a story filled with love, loyalty, revenge and murder.
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Written in a pair of completely dissimilar voices, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, recounts the journey taken across Africa to bring the body of David Livingstone to the coast whence it could be returned to England. The journey, decided upon by the Africans traveling with Livingstone at the time of his death, is historical fact. The novel is both an attempt to make vivid the journey as it happened and an exploration of alternate ways that journey might have been experienced by those undertaking it.

Both narrators, a female cook, Halima, and an aspiring minister, Jacob Wainwright, who was rescued from the slave trade an educated at a school for former slaves in India are garrulous. Halima speaks colloquially, loading her tale with bits of gossip and digressions. Wainwright casts the entire journey as his own Pilgrim's Progress, and consciously and carefully uses his own very formal version of the English language to narrative the journey. Both voices require some getting used to, but their very different pacing and perspectives pulls readers in.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light examines both the motivation of those who explore and "discover"—almost invariably in land inhabited by and well-know to indigenous peoples—and the way we each work to piece our own lives into coherent, purposeful narrative. It offers a thought-provoking read that will remain with readers long after the book is finished.
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"Out of Darkness, Shining Light" tells the story of how dozens of loyal men and women "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." The novel describes exploration, adventure and love as the caravan traveled 1500 miles. It also touches on racism, cultural differences and family dynamics. 
I appreciate author Petina Gappah's hard work and research. Unfortunately, I was expecting an engaging story. Instead, this novel includes dozens of characters who are hard to keep straight. The author also writes in more of a journal entry style rather than a chronological novel, and I felt like I was reading research notes rather than a true novel. 
This book might be useful for researchers or others who are interested in Dr. Livingstone, African culture, anthropology, or race relations. It's not a book casual readers will appreciate, in my opinion.
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A mixed reaction to this one. Yes, to hear of history’s big events through the voices of bystanders is always welcome.and doubly so when they are black characters in colonial Africa. The voice of a female cook rang the most persuasive and interesting. When it came to Jacob, a convert to Christianity, a dupe and a substitute for the narrator of The Pilgrim’s Progress I was less compelled or amused. Having an Iago-Esque villain also struck me as a weakness.
Most memorable of all of all was the tragic portrait of slavery’s effect on the villages. And the glimpses of suffering and misery threaded through the text. This aspect was powerful and indelible.
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I will admit that I didn't know that much of Dr David Livingston so I was a little excited about learning more about him.  Thanks to the wording of this book it felt like I was in the story.  This is a fantastic read and a story I will be reading more than once.
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Sometimes I worry that I am too stingy with 5 star reviews.  I'll read something and think it's great, but not quite 5 stars for me.

Then I read a book like this.  The books I save my 5 stars for, so that my 5 stars really mean something.  This book is fantastic.  I learned about Livingtone and his expeditions, something I didn't really know about previously.  The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorite books, and similarly, this book took us into the intricacies of Africa in the face of colonization.  I also appreciated the insight into the slave trade in Africa, during a period of time when it was being outlawed in the UK, and the dynamics of how the slave trade worked.  This book touches on a ton of important history in a way that is deft, nuanced, and sympathetic.  I felt like it truly captured some of the moral ambiguities of religion, colonization and the slave trade.

The author is also excellent at writing from two points of view and capturing very different and essential characters.  It honestly felt like I was hearing from two real people who had vastly different life experiences.  I liked Halima more than Jacob, but found them both to be sympathetic in their ways.  Writing from both of their points of view really allowed the reader to see things from two perspectives without feeling pushed or forced into one viewpoint over the other.  The characters feel rich and fully developed, the story complete and compelling.

Mostly, this book felt important.  It covers a lot of important aspects of history and spends a lot of time in the moral gray area, allowing the reader to experience a slice of history from many perspectives without having any lessons crammed down our throats.  Instead, it felt easy to see how the difficulties of life and life experiences can sway people to make decisions that don't feel purely right or wrong, when those decisions look more black and white from a more detached perspective.  Would highly recommend.
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Sorry.  I got this book thinking it was a novel set in Africa.  Unfortunately this system forces one to list a star rating even if the book wasn't read.
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Scottish explorer and medical missionary, David Livingstone, relentlessly searched for the source of the Nile, the world's longest river. In the final two years of his life, he still had "Nile madness". In the opinion of Livingstone's acerbic cook Halima, the Nile had been there since time began. The river would continue to flow whether the source was found or not. Halima's advice, "...go home to your children, find a wife 'to warm your bed'." Livingstone refused to return to England despite becoming ill and frail. He died in 1873 in what is present day Zambia. How is Livingstone to be interred?

"He will not rest easy...those who are buried away from home walk abroad...they know no rest...". "He must be buried in the way of his faith...He must...be buried on ground that is consecrated...we cannot bury him here." Halima's suggestion: "We will smoke him...dry him in the sun...He would be light enough to carry then...we bury his heart here and carry his bones to his own land." In the handwritten diaries of Jacob Wainwright, a former slave, Wainwright documents the burial of Livingstone's heart and innards at the base of a Myula tree. Sixty-nine men, women and children decide that Livingstone's body, encased in a cylinder of bark, covered in sailcloth and weather-proofed with tar, must be carried on poles by a rotation of two men, along with his writings and maps. They embark, on foot, taking a perilous journey of over 1,000 miles, from Zambia to Zanzibar, to ultimately repatriate his remains.

The journey of Livingstone's body to its final resting place is told by two principals, Halima, his cook and Jacob Wainwright, as his documentarian. "Out of Darkness, Shining Light" by Petina Gappah brings to light many issues existing in 19th Century Africa. Halima says,"I know but little about the world...but there is nothing you can tell me about how slaves are passed on and how they are freed." Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave, wants to became an ordained priest and "convert the masses" to Christianity. What will be the ripple effect of Livingstone's discoveries if his writings and maps reach England? Author Gappah has thoroughly researched and presented a historical fiction masterpiece I highly recommend.

Thank you Scribner and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "Out of Darkness, Shining Light".
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3.5 stars rounded down to 3. Historical fictions are very hit or miss for me and this one slightly missed the mark. Although I felt it was very well researched and written, it was a laborious read. I enjoy books that suck me in but this took me a lot of time to get through. It was a moving story but not for everyone.
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This book journals the aftermath of Dr. David Livingtone’s death; English physician, missionary and humanitarian. It is delivered from two POVs; his female cook, Halimi and from Jacob Wainwright, a Christian missionary. Dr. Livingstone has bestowed himself a man of great significance among their people. He is deified because of his contributions to their village. (He is referred to as Bwana (‘Master’) Daudi, and Halimi, is ‘his favorite slave to a white muzungu.’)

I thoroughly enjoyed the spirited narration coming from Halimi’s POV. Her prose is funny, witty and sharp. She is a refreshing character to read in such a dark and unusual situation. Her deep inquisitiveness and assertiveness sets the story for minor conflict. (I found myself rooting for her as she professes her deep yearning for freedom from slave and patriarchal norms in 1870s Zambia, Africa.)

Wainwright’s POV was beautifully written, but much slower paced. It reads more technically to their journey, rather than a traditional story arc. 

Her story telling is vivid with great sensory details. I like how she also chose deeply contrasting characters; both in a truly extraordinary situation. ("Whoever heard," she said, 'of a group of people marching from place to place with a dead body.") 

I received this ARC from Scribner (for Simon and Schuster) via NetGalley.com for an honest review.
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A moving book of historical fiction.An amazing journey a story of love and loyalty past a persons final days on earth.Take this journey its such a wonderful read.#netgalley #scribners
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Out of Darkness, Shining Light describes the story of David Livingston and the themes of strength, determination, love, loyalty and courage. The characters were well developed and it had a very interesting plot. A fascinating story, well written and I appreciated the research that went into this book. I would be interested in reading more of this author. My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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An interesting story of historical fiction. Well-researched and very well-written; an incredible 1000 mi journey. The characters were well-formed and the dialog solid. Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

I really appreciate the ARC for review!!
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This is a meditative read of imaginative fiction. It's a story of a journey, based in fact, built for the reader into fiction. Petina Gappah's work Out of Darkness, Shining Light is exquisitely researched and dives into the story of David Livingstone. It explores deep themes of love, loyalty, and the legacy of slavery. I found it to be a fascinating story.  

“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, author of Homegoing

Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and Scribner for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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I loved this. I don't have much else to say so I'm going to repeat myself. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this.
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Oh my goodness, this book. It is such a beautiful depiction of personal sacrifice, love and loyalty. When Dr. David Livingston died in Africa, his cook, Halima and Jacob Wainwright a freed slave decide to carry his body across the entire continent so he can be buried back in England and his ministry continued. 

It's an amazing story and one I will remember for a long time. I never thought I would enjoy a book about two people carrying a dead body across a country, but it was seriously so, so good!
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Witty ~ Literary ~ Imaginative

tl;dr: Even the great explorers had a great deal of help. 

Zimbabwe author Petina Gappah writes about the people who helped David Livingstone on his journey through sub-Saharan Africa. The book has short chapters, framed like memoir/ diary, and tell the story of the travels from the view of his African staff. I loved the way the author alluded to Livingstone through the staff's reflections. Each of the characters are so well-rounded. Livingstone's great "successes" are placed in context, and diminished in import, accordingly. This book is would be a wonderful read in a course about Colonialism and colonial ways of thinking, as well as a good read for any person who enjoys historical fiction. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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