The old drift : a novel

by Namwali Serpell

Paper Book, 2019


New York : Hogarth, [2019]


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member GrandmaCootie
I had no idea at all what to expect when I received an advance copy of The Old Drift, but I am beyond happy; I am thrilled to have read it. This is a story that just pulls you in until you are completely immersed. To call it amazing and breathtaking doesn’t do it justice, and to say it is just the story of three multicultural families and the history of a country in Africa is an understatement. It's a sprawling saga, like a mystery you can’t wait to solve, a ball of string that keeps unwinding or an onion with many, many layers. It’s six degrees of separation at its best – the story goes from person to person to person and location to location, but all are cleverly linked. You suddenly look up and go “Oh!” because it’s that person or that place or that event again.

The writing is magnificent. The Old Drift is a tale of a changing world, a changing nation, a changing people, with all the love, longing, desire, and loss that go with it. The cruelties and the exploitation, not just by the colonials, but by each other, are shocking. You get so involved with the characters that you want to step in and stop the bad times, let their hopes and dreams come true.

This history was at once so foreign to me yet at the same time so familiar, so compellingly filled with the music and scents and sensations of Zambia brought to life by author Namwali Serpell. A cloud of sadness and futility hang over everything, yet hope, determination and courage push through. It’s sometimes magical, sometimes horrifying. It’s history, fairytale, romance and science fiction all rolled into one satisfying story. This is not a book you read lightly, not one you read to escape, but a book you won’t soon forget.
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