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Review: Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Updated: Sep 12

2/5 stars

Out of Darkness, Shining Light, by Petina Gappah (2019)

This is a book of historical fiction that tells the story of the people who carried explorer and missionary Dr. Livingstone's body, along with all of his papers, fifteen hundred miles across Africa, so that his body could be returned to England. The story is interesting and I enjoyed learning about Africa's interior in the 1800's. There's a map at the beginning of the book, which is always a big plus for me! There is also a glossary of Arabic and Swahili terminology at the back. These words are sprinkled into the text, and I liked the fact that, in context, the reader wouldn't have to look up the word in order to understand the text, but that the curious could look up the exact meaning easily.


The first half of the book is narrated by Halima, Livingstone's cook. She is fiery and outspoken, and I enjoyed her narration. The second part, though, is narrated by Jacob, an African slave turned Christian missionary, and his narration is extremely tiresome. Not only is he unlikeable in his holier-than-thou attitude, but I had to skim so much of his text because it was basically just preaching and prosthelytizing. If the entire book had been narrated by Halima, I'd probably be giving it much higher praise.


Overall, the book moves very slowly, and I found myself getting impatient for the rare moments of "action." It took me a really long time to get through the book because I kept putting off reading it. So... that's never a good sign. I can't say I hated it, but I didn't love it either. It was an alright book. If you're interested in Livingstone, or in the specific journey this group of African men and women took to get his body back to England, then it's worth the read, even though it's slow.

UP NEXT: Piranesi, by Susanna Clark



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