Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Written by Petina Gappah
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

This book covers the death of David Livingstone, and the way in which his body was transported, from where he died at Chitambo in Zambia to Bagamoyo in Tanzania, and then back to England.

The author tells us that although the story is rooted in historical fact, this is still a work of fiction. However, it is firmly based on historical documents and letters obtained from various museums and libraries around the world. Petina Gappah relates it as if told by Livingstone’s friends and companions who carried him those many miles, and there is a map in the forefront of the book which clearly shows their route. Slavery was very much a part of everyday life in the second half of the 19th century, and the traders came as much from Africa itself as from Europe and America. Families would even sell their own children.

A glossary at the back of the book translates many of the Arabic and Swahili words and phrases of the day, which helps enormously. I knew nothing of this journey. As far as Livingstone was concerned, I only knew that he travelled in Africa, appeared to be lost for some time and was eventually found by Stanley, so in reading this book I learned a lot. I found it fascinating, and the characters came across as people with their likes and dislikes and internal feuding. It’s not always easy to read, as there is much repetition, but the writing is gentle and almost poetic in places, and I became totally absorbed. Not a book to be read quickly, but I recommend it.