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The Old Drift: A Novel Hardcover – March 26, 2019
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“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
- 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
- Best Sellers Rank: #331,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.
I'll stick with three stars, but this is not a novel I can imagine recommending to anyone I know looking for a great book to read.
Top reviews from other countries
Set mainly in Zambia this does on occasion find us elsewhere, such as Italy and England, and even India. We read of three generations of families; all the sections primarily based on a person from each family. The story also has at times what can only be described as a Greek Chorus which pops up at the beginning and end, and after each section. Taking us through the 20th Century so we see how Africa was affected by colonialization, Empire building and exploitation, but this could have been done better and with more emphasis at times, and we finish up in the near future. This even has a hint of magic realism, and yes there really was a Zambian Space Program, and so some of the characters that are here were very real people.
This does raise certain themes, and as the three separate families are European and Asian as well as African this does take in racism and of course the bigotry that can come about due to mixed marriages. Along with this we can see mention of colonialization, although this does not come across as strongly as it could, but as we read here, nowadays everyone seems to own most of the same type of gadgets, so the world for us is certainly becoming more standardized. This also takes in the proliferation of AIDS and the climate crisis. Although as I have already mentioned, this is mainly set in Zambia, there is not enough detail as such, on the political and economic situation in the country, but those who bother to look up or already know, just over 60% of the country are poor, and so when we read of items that are dumped from elsewhere and people trying to repair and sell them on, so you will realise why, and why there is a booming business in such activities.
An historical novel, with a hint of magic realism, and Afrofuturism this is obviously a mix of genres, making it not quite easy to compartmentalize, but it does make for more than a good enough read, what with family saga added to the mix, and seeing how the different original families end up intertwining and relating to each other over the century. The big problem with this is that it tries to take on big issues, such as disease and the climate on too small a scale, with really just one country, and these are issues that affect us all, though it does highlight such things as how Africa is being used at times as an experimental playground for trying new things out. This could have made big bold statements, but instead just raises smaller points, although as we see by the end, perhaps the biggest statement this does make, is that even with the best of intentions, mankind can create bigger problems that are still unresolved.
The writing is pretty good, and I was intrigued by the early chapters of the book, but it then takes a long, long time to get anywhere. The novel is written as a series of vignettes, and some of them are very, very good. But others appear to be the author just channeling her wry views on this subject or that through one of her characters, and which rather break the spell. Mainly, though, there are just too many vignettes which do not really move the plot forward, so it gets increasingly tedious. I think the author would have done better to have chopped 1/3 off the length of the book, and perhaps brought in some clearer foreshadowing.
I confess I gave up at the 75% mark, so do not know how it ends, or why it qualifies as Sci-Fi to fit the Arthur C Clarke award criteria. (There is a brief fantastical element at the beginning, which then makes occasional reappearances, but is hardly genre defining.)
Yet it didn't weave together well enough. Reminded me a bit of Another Year by Mike Leigh, which I doubt would have worked as well as a book without the talent of the actors really raising it up.
To be brutal, I got bored a few times, perhaps I'm just too used to books that never bore me at all.