The debut novel from the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing. 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.
Namwali Serpell’s extraordinary, ambitious, evocative first novel, The Old Drift, contributes powerfully to this new wave ... The Old Drift is a strong and confident enough piece of writing to stand on its own two feet and is perhaps not well served by being placed on the shoulders of giants ... The novel tells the intertwined stories of three families ... At first glance this may strike the reader as overly schematic. That it doesn’t read that way is a tribute to the energy with which the stories are told, and the vivid detail in which the world of the book is created ... The novel’s greatest strength lies in its creation of three unforgettable female characters ... the emotional devastation wrought by illness is keenly felt in these pages ... an impressive book, ranging skillfully between historical and science fiction, shifting gears between political argument, psychological realism and rich fabulism ... a dazzling debut, establishing Namwali Serpell as a writer on the world stage.
... audacious ... an intimate, brainy, gleaming epic, set mostly in what is now Zambia ... The plot pivots gracefully — this is a supremely confident literary performance — from accounts of the region’s early white colonizers and despoilers through the worst years of the AIDS crisis ... The reader who picks up The Old Drift is likely to be more than simply impressed. This is a dazzling book, as ambitious as any first novel published this decade. It made the skin on the back of my neck prickle. Serpell seems to want to stuff the entire world into her novel — biology, race, subjugation, revolutionary politics, technology — but it retains a human scale ... Serpell carefully husbands her resources. She unspools her intricate and overlapping stories calmly. Small narrative hunches pay off big later, like cherries coming up on a slot machine. Yet she’s such a generous writer. The people and the ideas in The Old Drift, like dervishes, are set whirling. When that whirling stops, you can hear the mosquitoes again. They’re still out there. They sound like tiny drones. They sound like dread.
Be prepared because this is a big book in all senses. Clocking in at a whomping 566 pages it sprawls over a century and overflows with staggering brilliance. In this wonderfully chaotic epic, Namwali Serpell invites us into an indelible world that’s part history, part sci-fi, totally political, and often as heartbreaking as it is weirdly hilarious ... filled with as much riotous color and sound as an outdoor bazaar ... Serpell unfolds in thrilling detail how the Africans fight back, win self-government, and replace the British flag for the Zambian one ... The writing is gorgeous and fiercely attuned to magical realism ... Still, even though The Old Drift’ is a little overstuffed, a little too long, it has the feel of a fairy tale, and it pulls you into its strange magic with page after ambitious page.