The Old Drift
“A dazzling debut, establishing Namwali Serpell as a writer on the world stage.”—Salman Rushdie, The New York Times Book Review
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Dwight Garner, The New York Times • The New York Times Book Review • Time • NPR • The Atlantic • BuzzFeed • Tordotcom • Kirkus Reviews • BookPage
WINNER OF: The Arthur C. Clarke Award • The Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award • The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction • The Windham-Campbell Prizes for Fiction
1904. On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there is a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. 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—emerge through a panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction.
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 is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Ray Bradbury Prize • Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
“An intimate, brainy, gleaming epic . . . This is a dazzling book, as ambitious as any first novel published this decade.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“A founding epic in the vein of Virgil’s Aeneid . . . though in its sprawling size, its flavor of picaresque comedy and its fusion of family lore with national politics it more resembles Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A story that intertwines strangers into families, which we'll follow for a century, magic into everyday moments, and the story of a nation, Zambia.”—NPR
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This poetic and powerful epic spans decades and crosses borders to recount the birth of Zambia—author Namwali Serpell’s home country. Through the stories of three generations of three families, Serpell weaves together an exploration of colonialism and independence that has hints of magic realism (a swarm of mosquitoes serves as a Greek chorus). The novel also beautifully combines political history, romance, and even science fiction. Its evocative settings and complex family dynamics reminded us of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Gabriel García Márquez, but The Old Drift is dazzlingly ambitious and wholly original.
Serpell's debut is a rich, complex saga of three intertwined families over the course of more than a century. The epic stretches out from a single violent encounter: in the early 20th century, a British colonialist adopts North-western Rhodesia (now Zambia) as his home, settling in the Old Drift, a settlement near Victoria Falls, where the colonist gets into a fateful skirmish with a local hotelier. After this, readers first meet Sibilla, the hotelier's granddaughter, a woman born with hair covering her body, who runs away to Africa with a man who frequents the wealthy Italian estate at which her mother is a servant; then, in England, there's Agnes, the colonialist's granddaughter, a rich white girl and talented tennis player who goes blind and falls in love with a student who, unbeknownst to her, is black; and Matha, the servant's granddaughter, a spirited prodigy who joins a local radical's avant-garde activism. In part two, Agnes's son, Lionel, has an affair with Matha's daughter, which leads to a confrontation that also involves Naila, Sibilla's granddaughter. Serpell expertly weaves in a preponderance of themes, issues, and history, including Zambia's independence, the AIDS epidemic, white supremacy, patriarchy, familial legacy, and the infinite variations of lust and love. Recalling the work of Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garc a M rquez as a sometimes magical, sometimes horrifically real portrait of a place, Serpell's novel goes into the future of the 2020s, when the various plot threads come together in a startling conclusion. Intricately imagined, brilliantly constructed, and staggering in its scope, this is an astonishing novel.
I gave it 200 pages. I found the initial female, character, distasteful, and ugly. I could not identify with, nor compel myself to read more about a woman whose hair never stopped growing and was all over her body.
Terrible! Not one character is likable or relatable. A miserable lineage of miserable flawed people. Do not waste your time. So much potential and sorely disappointed!