The Old Drift

The Old Drift

A Novel

Book - 2019 | First edition.
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"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
Publisher: New York : Hogarth, [2019]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9781101907146
Branch Call Number: FIC SERPELL, N.
Characteristics: 566 pages : illustration ; 25 cm


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JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Jun 15, 2020

A Zambian author deconstructs colonialism in this fascinating novel. Fans of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will find stylistic similarities in this generation-spanning work of magical realism, complete with a Greek chorus of mosquito's narrating intercalary chapters.

Mar 31, 2020

The Old Drift is an ambitious historical fiction novel, but Namwali Serpell is a gifted alchemist and her debut brews up a combination of characters and events that pulls you through a century of familial growth and conflict. The epochal chapter introduces Percy Clark and his arrival in Zambia. Clark sets in motion a course of events that defines three central families and ropes the large cast of characters together through the decades. Serpell’s sweeping narrative follows her quirky and authentic creations as they meet one another and grow. It is evident that Serpell enjoys creating unusual characters such as the hair covered Sibilla, the blind ex-tennis star Agnes, or Matha, the woman who shed a million tears. As Serpell weaves her intricately plotted novel through time, love affairs abound, and we see generations engage in cultural and technological changes. The novels chapters are interspersed with narrations of the “Swarm,” an omnipresent being who comments on the changes in Zambia and the resulting families’ actions. The Old Drift crawls through history but firmly plants the reader within the family until you are unable to leave your kin.


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