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.
Three multicultural families' pasts and presents, told by a swarming chorus of voices, culminate in a tale as mysterious as it is timeless ... This stunning cross-genre debut draws on Zambian history and is twisted with inverted stereotypes and explicit racist language that only reinforces the far-flung exploration of humanity.
Namwali Serpell’s impressive first novel is an indulgent, centuries-spanning slab of life marbled with subplots, zigzagging between characters and decades to play snakes and ladders with the bloodlines of three Zambian families with roots from around the world ... For 200 pages or so The Old Drift is electric with the sense that Serpell is laying down pieces in a puzzle kept teasingly out of sight ... A growing sense that The Old Drift could go on for ever is tribute to its inventiveness but also a feeling of weightlessness in what begins to resemble a series of vignettes strung together with lusty sex scenes (the main source of interaction between characters, with diminishing returns). The novel’s pleasures are largely local, in its multi-accented brio and pin-sharp scene-making ... What initially seems an old-fashioned saga proves more interested in genre than in character.
Proudly uncategorizable, Serpell’s excellent first novel traverses a shifting genre landscape while delving into Zambia’s tumultuous history in intimate detail ... From the Shiwa Ng’andu estate to the Kalingalinga compound, the deeply human, ethnically diverse characters fall in love, grieve, betray one another, and make shocking choices. In this smartly composed epic, magical realism and science fiction interweave with authentic history, and the 'colour bar,' the importance of female education, and the consequences of technological change figure strongly. It’s also a unique immigration story showing how people from elsewhere are enfolded into the country’s fabric. While a bit too lengthy, Serpell’s novel is absorbing, occasionally strange, and entrenched in Zambian culture—in all, an unforgettable original.