Quite a lot is happening ahead of the release of The Old Drift, Namwali Serpell’s debut novel. Justifiably so as she is one of our best prose stylists. Forthcoming on 26 March 2019 from Penguin Random House imprint Hogarth, the 576-page The Old Drift is set on the Zambezi River and tells the story of three Zambian families—one black, one brown, one white—against the backdrop of history, science fiction, and fairytale. The novel has been hailed as The Great Zambian Novel and drawn comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works of magical realism.
An associate professor of English at UC Berkeley, Namwali Serpell, who won the 2015 Caine Prize after being shortlisted in 2010, is Zambia’s best known contemporary writer. In 2014, she was chosen as one of the Africa 39, the Hay Festival project to identify the most promising African writers under 40. Her first book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, was published in 2014 by Harvard UP. Her short story, “Triptych: Texas Pool Party,” was shortlisted for the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction.
Here is a description of The Old Drift by its publishers.
An electrifying debut from the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing, The Old Drift is the Great Zambian Novel you didn’t know you were waiting for.
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.
In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.
From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with color and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.