“Engrossing, beautiful, and deeply imaginative” (Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing), this epic novel about the explorer David Livingstone and the extraordinary group of Africans who carry his body across impossible terrain “illuminates the agonies of colonialism and blind loyalty” (O, The Oprah Magazine).
“This is how we carried out of Africa the poor broken body of...David Livingstone, so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own land.”
So begins Petina Gappah’s “searing…poignant” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis) novel of exploration and adventure in 19th-century Africa—the captivating story of the African men and women who carried explorer and missionary Dr. Livingstone’s body, 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, his rigidly pious secretary, this is a “powerful novel, beautifully told” (Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing) that encompasses all of the hypocrisy of slavery and colonization—the hypocrisy of humanity—while celebrating resilience, loyalty, and love.
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 from where he died in what is now modern-day Zambia in May of 1873 to Africa's eastern coast so that it could be returned to England. The tale of the 285-day journey is taken up by the sharp-tongued cook Halima on the night of Livingstone's death. She is quick to offer her opinions on other members of the group, such as the untrustworthy Chirango and simpering Ntao ka. Although she talks about the evils of African slavers and a massacre at Manyuema, in chapters that describe Livingstone's final months, hers is the more lighthearted portion of the narrative. When the self-righteous and self-important Jacob Wainwright takes over to tell the tale of the trek in his journal entries, his poor opinion of his companions just adds to the misery as they face privation in the wilderness, varied receptions in villages, and more death along the road. Readers who enjoy expedition travelogues or smartly drawn characters will appreciate Gappah's winning novel.