The Old Drift
By Namwali Serpell
Why this book?
This astonishing mashup of fact and fiction tracks three generations from three different lineages starting around 1900, describes their convergence over the century, and carries on into present-day Zambia, beyond the book’s publication date. This gives it the opportunity to morph into “science fiction” towards the end. The prose is often superb and the characters are vividly described. Obscure but authentic historic and technical details, e.g., the Afronaut story (who knew?) and some clinicopathologic aspects of malaria, are impressive examples of the research the author put into the book. The McCall’s pattern numbers she referenced for a fictional seamstress were even correct! It’s a long read, chock-a-block with characters. I had to reference the genealogy at the front often to keep track of it all. Serpell has immense talent and I’ll definitely read more of her future work.
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