When I finished reading this book a couple of months ago, I was tempted to join the multitude of readers who were heaping praises on Petina Gappah saying that she had outdone herself with this book. Although, it is a beautiful story that is beautifully narrated, I could not say that without becoming dishonest. I confess, prior to this book, I had only managed to read one other book from her oeuvre.
In as much as this story was written well, authored by an African, narrated through the eyes of Africans, it is my contention that the story remains a European story. It involved Africans, happened in Africa and was told through the Africans’ eyes but it remains Eurocentric in perspective. It must never be lost on us that explorers like David Livingstone, played a key role in the colonisation of Africa. They were funded either by their governments or by exploration societies with the twin main aims of discovering resources and the means of how European/Western governments or companies could exploit those resources. Once we agree on this point, it becomes easy to view the Africans in this story not as heroes and heroines but as villains who ignorantly devoted their loyalty aiding and abating the enemy.
Secondly, I have strong reservations with the title of the book. Europeans used to regard our continent the dark continent. What darkness is she referring to? Is the carrying of a dead white person across the continent the shinning light she was referring to ? The answers to these questions reinforce my position that the book is Eurocentric in perspective.
History is contested terrain and it is true that African historians have been crying foul, that we as Africans were written out of history. I would like to believe that this is not the writing into history they were crying for. The writing of Africans into history entails the retelling of the past through an African perspective.
In conclusion, I want you to imagine the ‘Jewish’ people retelling their past and implicitly giving glowing accounts on people who played be they periphery/marginal roles in their persecution. They would be furore in the Jewish community.