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Petina Gappah Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Book of Memory (2012) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Out of Darkness, Shining Light (2019) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Collections

Rotten Row (2016) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Short Stories/Novellas

An Elegy for Easterly (2009) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Petina Gappah was born in the year 1971 in Zambia, in Copperbelt Province, and grew up in Zimbabwe. She was one of the first black students in the primary school that was once reserved for white kids.

At the age of about ten or eleven she began writing stories, with her first published story being in the St. Dominic’s Secondary School magazine at the age of fourteen. Since she was about eleven, there has not been too much time she has not been writing stories.

Much of her early work in writing fiction was only mimicry. Petina would write stories about horses and dogs and ballet, without ever having danced, owning a dog, or been on a horse. She would write nonsense poetry, imitating poets like Hilaire Belloc and Ogden Nash. Petina wrote a science fiction novel, which was complete with illustrations, that was set on Mars. She wrote plays that were performed at her school. During her late teens, she penned a Mills and Boon. Petina wound up accumulating quite a lot of stuff over the years of being a writer that was at various stages of being finished.

She studied law at the University of Zimbabwe before going to Austria to do doctorate work at the University of Graz. Petina has a doctorate in international trade law and a master’s degree.

Petina won a Guardian First Book Award in the year 2009. She was shortlisted Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Orwell Prize.

She finds the experience of living in Britain and Austria to be “dislocating” because of her race as well as the challenges of learning new languages. She speaks four: English, German, French, and Shona. She would later move to Geneva, working at the World Trade Organization for seventeen years, before she went back to Harare.

Despite the fact that she had been writing the whole time she was in Geneva, she felt like she had to pursue what her family thought was a professional career. Something in medicine, law, or finance. It was especially important in her family since she was the first descendant of her ancestors to go to university, plus she had four young siblings that she wanted to set an example for.

Petina began writing seriously in the year 2006. She submitted a story she wrote to an online writers group Zoetrope Virtual Studio, and it attracted a publisher’s interest from a literary journal called Per Contra. She still has the check, which she never cashed, she got for the story. It was a symbol of something fantastic, that she could not only write stuff people liked, but she could also make money doing it.

After this, she entered some stories in competitions, doing well in one competition, and when she felt confident enough, she looked for an agent, who then looked for a publisher on her behalf.

In the year 2010, she moved to Harare, spending three years there, in order to work on her first novel, called “The Book of Memory”. It was later published in the year 2015.

Petina always wanted Memory to be an albino woman because she wanted her to have a difference that was very visible to the point that it was inescapable. It was something that defined her from birth, both how she saw the world and how the world received her. Petina wanted to use the condition as a way to talk a bit about how they understand whiteness in Zimbabwe. Both the whiteness of privilege associated with white people and whiteness of prejudice that is associated with albinos.

It took her over twenty years to write her novel “Out of Darkness, Shining Light”, since the story was a complicated one to tell. The topic of the novel is something she has been obsessed with since she was just sixteen years old. Her original floppy disk that she saved early drafts of the story on is now her good luck charm.

The story required a lot of research that she was able to finish and publish three other books over all the time she spent working on it, all as she navigated her career in Geneva as an international trade lawyer.

She would look at museums and book fairs, trying to find books and information related to the guy. Petina once spent about four thousand dollars for a big collection of things, after which she could not eat lunch for three months afterwards.

Initially, she was inspired by Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” and had fifteen characters telling the story, but decided to pare it all down to only two.

As she works on novels, she continues to write short stories, finding that if she doesn’t, she will get too bored with herself.

“The Book of Memory” is the first stand alone novel and was released in the year 2012. Memory, an albino woman who languishes in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, after she was sentenced for murder. As part of her appeal, her attorney insists that she writes down everything that she remembers happened. Memory is quite literally and metaphorically writing for her life, since the death penalty is the mandatory sentence for murder.

While her story plays out, Memory reveals that she was tried and convicted for killing Lloyd Hendricks, who is her adopted dad. Who was Lloyd Hendricks, though? Why doesn’t Memory feel any remorse for Lloyd’s death? Did it all happen like she remembers?

“Out of Darkness, Shining Light” is the second stand alone novel and was released in the year 2019. Sixty-nine women and men carry the remains of Bwana Daudi, the explorer and Doctor David Livingstone, fifteen hundred miles in order to make sure he can be buried in his own country.

The wise men from his age say that David blazed a trail into their bleak native land, leaving behind a track of light behind where white guys who followed him would be able to tread in perfect safety. It is the people in history’s shadows, those that saved a white guy’s bones; his faithful people; his dark companions on an epic funeral march, whose voices are brought to life with rather searing intensity.

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