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The Old Drift
by Namwali Serpell




Overview -
"A dazzling debut, establishing Namwali Serpell as a writer on the world stage."--Salman Rushdie, The New York Times Book Review

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Dwight Garner, The New York Times - The New York Times Book Review - Time - NPR - The Atlantic - BuzzFeed - Tordotcom - Kirkus Reviews - BookPage

WINNER OF: The Arthur C. Clarke Award - The Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award - The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction - The Windham-Campbell Prizes for Fiction

1904. On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there is a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. 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--emerge through a panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction.

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 is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.

Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Ray Bradbury Prize - Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

"An intimate, brainy, gleaming epic . . . This is a dazzling book, as ambitious as any first novel published this decade."--Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"A founding epic in the vein of Virgil's Aeneid . . . though in its sprawling size, its flavor of picaresque comedy and its fusion of family lore with national politics it more resembles Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children."--The Wall Street Journal

"A story that intertwines strangers into families, which we'll follow for a century, magic into everyday moments, and the story of a nation, Zambia."--NPR

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Overview

"A dazzling debut, establishing Namwali Serpell as a writer on the world stage."--Salman Rushdie, The New York Times Book Review

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Dwight Garner, The New York Times - The New York Times Book Review - Time - NPR - The Atlantic - BuzzFeed - Tordotcom - Kirkus Reviews - BookPage

WINNER OF: The Arthur C. Clarke Award - The Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award - The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction - The Windham-Campbell Prizes for Fiction

1904. On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there is a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. 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--emerge through a panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction.

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 is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.

Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Ray Bradbury Prize - Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

"An intimate, brainy, gleaming epic . . . This is a dazzling book, as ambitious as any first novel published this decade."--Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"A founding epic in the vein of Virgil's Aeneid . . . though in its sprawling size, its flavor of picaresque comedy and its fusion of family lore with national politics it more resembles Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children."--The Wall Street Journal

"A story that intertwines strangers into families, which we'll follow for a century, magic into everyday moments, and the story of a nation, Zambia."--NPR

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101907146
  • ISBN-10: 1101907142
  • Publisher: Hogarth Press
  • Publish Date: March 2019
  • Page Count: 576
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.86 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

The Old Drift

Early in Namwali Serpell’s brilliant and many-layered debut novel, a turn-of-the-century British colonialist named Percy Clark wanders through the corner of what was then called Northwest Rhodesia (and is now the nation of Zambia) and complains: “I do seem plagued by the unpunishable crimes of others.” It is, in a sense, a fitting slogan for the many ruinous aftereffects of colonialism, except here it is spoken by an agent and beneficiary of the colonizer.

So begins The Old Drift, an expansive yet intricate novel that bends, inverts and at times ignores conventions of time and place. Part historical fiction, part futurism, part fantasy, Serpell’s hundred-year saga of three families and their intertwined fortunes is as unique as it is ambitious. And in just about every way, it succeeds.

The story begins in 1904, when an unlikely incident (Percy accidentally rips a patch of hair off another man’s head) sets off a chain of events that reverberates through the decades. From there, Serpell introduces a cast of characters that ranges from the everyday to the fantastical. The book chronicles the interwoven lives of three families, cast against the creation of Zambia itself.

There is a timeless quality to Serpell’s storytelling—or perhaps a sense that her novel moves almost independent of time. What starts as a story steeped in real colonial history eventually moves into the present and beyond—an invented near-future. In clumsier hands this complex, sprawling, century--spanning book might have easily folded in on itself, a victim of its scale and scope. Instead, The Old Drift holds together, its many strands diverging and converging in strange but undeniable rhythm.

It’s difficult not to pigeonhole the novel into a particular literary school—namely, that of the descendants of Gabriel García Márquez and the magical realists. Less than 100 pages into the story, for example, the reader meets a girl covered head to toe in hair. Another character cries endless tears. There are, throughout the book, myriad moments in which Serpell utilizes the improbable, the impossible, the unreal, to get at something profoundly human. And for all the ways it subverts and reinvents convention, The Old Drift is a very human book, deeply concerned with that most virulent strain of history: the unpunishable crimes of others.

 

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