Now with her searing, poignant, often hilarious Out of Darkness, Shining Light, she upends the conventions of historical fiction ... [narrator] Halima is a kind of African Wife of Bath...bossy, brassy and brilliantly realized ... Gappah's treatment of her characters' odyssey, by turns playful and tragic, is underpinned by a larger theme: the legacy of colonization ... Out of Darkness, Shining Light beautifully evokes the moral ambiguities that lurk within the human heart, revealing a talent that continues to grow from book to book.
Gappah poured years of research into her novel, which is apparent in the rich detail found in its pages. Her vibrant story exposes not only Livingstone’s hypocrisy, but also the growing doubts of Halima and Jacob. She shines a light on colonial Africa and the evils of the slave trade, but in the midst of this darkness, she gives voice to those whose sacrifices were unheralded. While Livingstone's heart was buried in Africa, it was the generous hearts of his servants that helped his work survive.
Gappah returns them to the forefront of this amazing pilgrimage and brings both the time and the terrain into focus for her audience with humor, horror and all the wonder unique to the continent ... Halima is a smart, spirited woman. Readers will find that her sharp wit and cagey nature combine for a fascinating perspective of the funeral trek ... In Out of Darkness, Shining Light, Gappah has managed to artfully blend brilliant humor with a strong sense of place and themes surrounding the dark issues of slavery and colonization. She delivers an engrossing adventure laced with details that history books have neglected ... Gappah paints an emotionally charged image of the slaves who are unable to continue walking.
Some of Wainwright’s sections are marvels of verisimilitude (his diaries were published online in early 2019). 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 to reveal a man who was often petty and occasionally venal; who blundered through the continent propelled by a conviction of the superiority of his own ideas ... Out of Darkness is a satisfying reminder of [slaves'] sacrifice as well as our obligation to memorialise them. There were moments when I found myself wishing for a revving of the narrative engine; when the novel felt loaded too heavily with information at the expense of plot. But in the scheme of this ambitious, meticulously researched work, perhaps a craving for more plot might be considered a failing on my part. The novel succeeds on the terms it has set for itself, which are not so much to do with making things happen as with a critical understanding of the usefulness of fiction for filling in history’s gaps.
... scrupulously researched ... Gappah has chosen an ingenious way to approach Livingstone’s life: She focuses on his death ... The main problem with Halima’s narrative is that all but one of her 14 chapters are prefaced with a quote from the journals of either David Livingstone or the explorer Henry Morton Stanley...This continuing return to brief extracts is a distraction, particularly when these extracts suggest a complexity of character for Livingstone that isn’t fully achieved when he’s viewed through the eyes of Halima ... The 25 entries in Jacob Wainwright’s journal are deeply imbued with his Christian beliefs, but his self-righteous voice lacks the necessary dramatic energy to keep the story moving with any pace. Trapped in a single low gear, the narrative chugs along, prefaced by a series of lackluster imitations of 19th-century chapter headings that announce what is to follow ... If only some of the pathos of Wainwright’s final predicament could have found its way into the main narrative ... Petina Gappah is a skilled writer ... Although Gappah’s Livingstone is dead, his voice is still resonant in the extracts from his journals. One wishes she had arranged things so that Livingstone’s silvery tongue had remained absolutely still.
Gappah decolonizes the legend of Dr. Livingstone by turning the tale inside out, giving voice to those who are overlooked ... The result is an indictment of the legacy of slavery and colonialism that is also an engrossing adventure story. Highly recommended.
A rollicking novel ... 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.
Gappah (The Book of Memory) uses two distinct voices to tell her version of the remarkable tale of the transportation of doctor and missionary David Livingstone’s body ... Readers who enjoy expedition travelogues or smartly drawn characters will appreciate Gappah’s winning novel.