This is the story of the body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, the explorer David Livingstone – and the sixty-nine men and women who carried his remains for 1,500 miles so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own country.
The wise men of his age say Livingstone blazed into the darkness of their native land leaving a track of light behind where white men who followed him could tread in perfect safety. But in Petina Gappah’s radical novel, it is those in the shadows of history – those who saved a white man’s bones; his dark companions; his faithful retinue on an epic funeral march – whose voices are resurrected with searing intensity.
This final, fateful journey across the African interior is lead by Halima, Livingstone’s sharp-tongued cook, and three of his most devoted servants: Jacob, Chuma and Susi. Their tale of how his corpse was borne out of nineteenth-century Africa – carrying the maps that sowed the seeds of the continent’s brutal colonisation – has the power of myth. It is not only symbolic of slavery’s hypocrisy, but a portrait of a world trembling on the cusp of total change – and a celebration of human bravery, loyalty and love.
Petina Gappah (born 1971) is a Zimbabwean lawyer and writer. She writes in English, though she also draws on Shona, her first language. In 2016, she was named African Literary Person of the Year by Brittle Paper. In 2017 she had a DAAD Artist-in-Residence fellowship in Berlin.