The Old Drift
by Namwali Serpell
Pub Date 21 Mar 2019
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Electrifying, playful, ambitious, brilliant – a Zambian debut novel that follows three generations of three families, telling the story of a nation, and of the grand sweep of time
'It’s difficult to think of another novel that is at once so sweepingly ambitious and so intricately patterned, delivering the pleasures of saga and poetry in equal measure. The Old Drift is an endlessly innovative, voraciously brilliant book, and Namwali Serpell is among the most distinctive and exciting writers to emerge in years.' Garth Greenwell
On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.
In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.
From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with colour and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.
'In turns charming, heartbreaking, and breathtaking, The Old Drift is a staggeringly ambitious, genre-busting multigenerational saga with moxie for days... I wanted it to go on forever. A worthy heir to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.'
Carmen Maria Machado
'The Old Drift is an extraordinary meditation on identity, the history of a nation, love, politics, family, friendship and life. Serpell's prose is dazzling. Darting back and forth through the decades and mixing different genres, Namwali has delivered an original, remarkable, magical work that both delights and challenges."
'An astonishing novel, a riot for the senses, filled with the music and scents and sensations of Zambia. Namwali Serpell writes about people, land and longing with such compassionate humour and precision, there’s an old wisdom in these pages. In short, make room on your shelf next to a few of your other favourites: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tsisi Dangarembga and Edwidge Danticat jump to mind. It’s brilliant. This woman was born to write!"
'If, as she writes, "history is the annals of the bully on the playground" then in The Old Drift, Namwali Serpell wreaks havoc on the Zambian annals by rewriting the past, creating a new present, and conjuring an alternative future. In refusing to be bound by genre, Serpell is audacious and shrewd. This is a Zambian history of pain and exploitation, trial and error, and hope and triumph'