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The Old Drift: A Novel Hardcover – March 26, 2019

4.1 out of 5 stars 497 ratings

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From the Publisher

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of March 2019: Making good on the publisher’s claim of being "the great Zambian novel you didn’t know you were waiting for," this ambitious novel follows three very different founding families across generations, from 19th-century Europe to the banks of the near-future Zambezi river. The first matriarch we meet is Silliba, illegitimate daughter of an Italian noble and his housecleaner, born covered in hair that regrows as fast as it is cut. Next is Agnes, a rising tennis star - until she loses her sight. She secretly flees her wealthy, British parents to return to the home of her Rhodesian lover...who notices small eyes growing on her that recede on closer inspection. We then meet Matha, a young African woman coming of age as Zambia becomes a nation in the 1960s. These intertwining stories are as steeped in a solemn strain of magical realism as they are in actual history: the plot’s fantastical elements reveal the cruelties and absurdities of real-world colonialism. Ultimately, this novel’s chief pleasure lies in watching wildly varying lives daub together to produce a cross-century portrait of a country. --Katy Ball, Amazon Book Review

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“A rich, thick Zambian epic, The Old Drift blends real-life history with magical realism. . . . A striking debut.”USA Today (5 Books Not to Miss)

“In a novel that spans the breadth of Zambia’s precolonial past to its digital future, Serpell’s unbound imagination is often a thing of beauty. . . . It is in the familial space with its dramas of loves, betrayals, desires and dreams that [Serpell] excels. Her Zambian characters are especially brimming and compelling. In a nod to Leo Tolstoy, she eventually offers her readers a lovely kernel of an overarching theme that binds her characters across the passage of time and encapsulates her confident writing style: ‘Every family is a war but some are more civil than others.’”Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Namwali Serpell’s vibrant, intellectually rich debut novel, The Old Drift, is in keeping in that tradition, and like any good nation-hoovering novel, it too refuses to conform to expectations. . . . This oddball cast of characters simply represents the joys of the picaresque novel, in which the author’s set design is intentionally surreal and ironic. . . . Serpell is a natural social novelist, capable of conjuring a Dickensian range of characters with a painterly eye for detail.”The Washington Post

“Highly anticipated . . . a boldly sweeping epic . . . The singularly stunning achievement of [The Old Drift]: grappling with grandiose, complex notions, funneled through a kind of worldly knowledge and historical curiosity—all of which is ultimately grounded in an attention to the interiors of individual lives. . . . Serpell’s vision has made The Old Drift among the most buzzed-about books of the year.”San Francisco Chronicle 

“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.”—The Boston Globe

“Serpell creates a stunning narrative that’s voiced as forcefully by her characters as they are by a vociferous swarm of mosquitoes—yes, actual mosquitoes—exploding the dividing lines between categories to tell a new kind of story.”—The Rumpus

“It’s hard to believe this is a debut, so assured is its language, so ambitious its reach, and yet The Old Drift is indeed Namwali Serpell’s first novel, and it signifies a great new voice in fiction. Feeling at once ancient and futuristic, The Old Drift is a genre-defying riotous work that spins a startling new creation myth for the African nation of Zambia. . . . Serpell’s voice is lucid and brilliant, and it’s one we can’t wait to read more of in years to come.”Nylon, (50 Books You’ll Want to Read in 2019)

“In turns charming, heartbreaking, and breathtaking, The Old Drift is a staggeringly ambitious, genre-busting multigenerational saga with moxie for days. . . . I wanted it to go on forever. A worthy heir to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.”—Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties

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Product details

  • Publisher : Hogarth; 1st Edition (March 26, 2019)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 576 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1101907142
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1101907146
  • Item Weight : 1.86 pounds
  • Dimensions : 6.38 x 1.47 x 9.59 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.1 out of 5 stars 497 ratings

Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5
497 global ratings
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Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2019
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M. Dowden
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 20, 2020
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Steve B
3.0 out of 5 stars A long shaggy dog story with some fun highlights
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 15, 2021
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Muthoni Kenya
5.0 out of 5 stars A lion tells the story of the hunt
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 28, 2019
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Sid Barrat
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't hold together
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 30, 2020
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D. Wrench
3.0 out of 5 stars Barely science fiction
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 26, 2020
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