The Old Drift

The Old Drift

A Novel

Book - 2019
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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 color 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.
Publisher: London : Hogarth, [2019]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781101907146
Branch Call Number: F SER
Characteristics: 566 pages: genealogical table ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Old drift


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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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