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…
Why read it?
4 authors picked The Old Drift as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift is a cross-genre book that addresses matters of colonialism and a future Africa with brashness and philosophy. Its subversive text is far-reaching in poignant fiction imbued with intimacy and cultural convergence. The story pays special attention to mothers and children, the importance of identity, and the intense need we have as humans to belong.
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…
This mountainous whirlwind of a book is many things and does many things. A dazzling compendium of styles and genres, it’s probably the most ambitious debut I’ve ever read. It charts three family lines across a century as their respective trajectories meet and separate in a kaleidoscope of meaning, fleeting coincidence, and pure ecstasy. It made me think of how we never get to choose our ancestors and how we are stuck, for better or worse, with who they were and with who we are as a result.
To describe The Old Drift as epic and sprawling is an understatement. As critics have noted, it is astounding to think that this is a first novel. The Zambian-born Serpell has used her phenomenal powers of observation and imagination to create a sweeping saga of multiple families over several generations of Zambia’s history, and even verges into science-fiction towards the end. Ordinarily I prefer novels with, say, three or four main characters. This one must have thirty, but the recurring connections between them holds things together. Above all, the dead-on details of daily life, especially in the fascinating capital city…
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