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The Old Drift by Mamwali Serpel
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The Old Drift (original 2019; edition 2019)

by Mamwali Serpel (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4921341,554 (3.6)22
"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 ReviewTime * NPR * The AtlanticBuzzFeedTordotcom * Kirkus Reviews * BookPage Winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award * Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction * Winner of 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.   Shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award * 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… (more)
Member:ZannaZori
Title:The Old Drift
Authors:Mamwali Serpel (Author)
Info:Hogarth (2019)
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:*****
Tags:None

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The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (2019)

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» See also 22 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Mosquitoes play a prominent role in this work of African historical fiction / magical realism/ multi-generational epic. The present day and weird future parts a much less of a slog than the colonial parts. ( )
  ZannaZori | Aug 5, 2022 |
This is a schizophrenic book with no idea what it wants to be: historical fiction? Magical realism? Sci-fi? Folk tale? It’s none consistently. The writing style changes throughout, even within chapters. She apparently published bits & pieces, then blended it together to make a bumpy & weird story. Its blurb makes it sound amazing. Sadly. It’s not.

This book is about the descendants of 3 matriarchs in Zambia, as they intersect before Zambia becomes a nation to the near future. The Kariba Dam surprisingly is an important part of the intersection of families. It’s a difficult read because it mixes genres in weird ways, making what could have been an fascinating story of a country into a struggle to read or care.

I didn’t connect with any character, not for lack of trying—it’s not a kind representation of the Zambian people. Two stars for the family stories, which, interspersed between the weirdness, were interesting. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Nov 7, 2021 |
I purchased the hardcover book in 2019, and had so many other books on my TBR until I came across the Read Soul Lit Summer Readalong Group on Goodreads.com. The book was the July 2021 selection. My perfect opportunity to read this book.

The book is based on major historical and current events as well as fictional accounts. Debut novelist features the African nation of Zambia as the center player in this novel utilizing music and scents. She describes the essence of her homeland before European influence.

The beginning chapter - “The Falls” is something from The National Geographic Magazine. Wild boars, and antelopes. The Old Drift, significant story elements relate to the Zambezi River, a section of which was called "The Drift" during the late 19th century when early European explorers deemed it a relatively easy place to cross compared with more treacherous gorges, rapids or waterfalls. Also mentioned in the novel, European engineers built a hydroelectric dam at Kariba in the 1950s, forming one of Africa's largest freshwater lakes. Today, Victoria Falls is considered one of the wonders of the world; the sounds of its 300 foot drop can be heard for miles.

The novel is divided into three sections, and depicts complex characters from many racial backgrounds. The first section is “The Grandmothers” - Sibilla is an interesting story about a very hairy lady. Federico and Sibilla flee their homeland, Italy, under mysterious circumstances. Agnes is a blind tennis player, marries Ronald (an interracial couple), and Matha is an intellectual and attended school disguised as a boy. Matha and Godfrey are based on fact. At the height of the Cold War in 1964, a schoolteacher launched the Zambian Space Program with a dozen aspiring teenage astronauts. The second section is “The Mothers”. Sylvia is a hairstylist, Isabella “Isa” marries Balaji, an Indian merchant. Isa shaves her daughters heads for wigs, and Thandie is a Flight Attendant. The third half of the book - “The Children” was a disappointment to me. Joseph, the son of a mixed race father and a black mom. Jacob is an innovator that designs and builds minidrones, because of his inspiring grandmother, and Naila were my least favorite characters.

The family tree diagram at the beginning of the book was a crucial necessity. Old languages and new are evident through the entire novel. Who was the boy on the bike, hit by a car and left injured? I had to know. How can a territory of many cultures transcend historic conflicts and systematic oppression?

It’s brilliant how Sepell brings the characters together. I stuck with the story, thankfully. I wanted to DNF (Did Not Finish) this book, but my curiosity outdid me. The futuristic elements set the climatic end to the novel in the year 2023, but had some elements that are relatable to today’s matters of climate change, poverty, a pandemic outbreak, and politics. Though entirely fictional the tracking and vaccinating people without consent does not seem at all far-fetched in our day and time.

566 page read had to capture and keep my attention. It faulted in some cases and then reignited in others. Listening to the audiobook was a big plus. The narrator was excellent in bringing the characters to life. Serpell has weaved a complex historical fiction with a compelling settings of Zambia, Italy, England, and India, and delivers an intriguing, delightful, magical, heartbreaking, and challenging novel. Clever wordplay, astonishing prose, tragicomedy intermingled with this multigenerational saga. Impressive! ( )
  Onnaday | Aug 10, 2021 |
More like 4.5 stars. The Old Drift sneaks up on you. It starts slow and steady and then suddenly you are hooked into their worlds, family and histories. I toggled between reading the book and listening to the Audible. I highly recommend both options. This will be a great discussion book for book clubs ( )
  scoene | Jul 13, 2021 |
This is an epic novel that attempts to depict the history of Zambia through the fictional stories of several generations of a few interrelated families. The characters are a mix of Black African people native to the region that would become Zambia as well as European colonizers and expatriates. The novel begins with explorer David Livingstone seeing Victoria Falls for the first time. This is ironic since later in the novel a character says that when telling stories to white people you need to always start with a white person "discovering" something. The novel ends in a near future time when biotechnology has become commonplace.

The stories in this novel draw on the traditions of magical realism. For example a woman's hair grows so fast so as to constantly cover her entire body. Her daughters, on the other hand, have fast growing hair on their heads that they are able to profit from by selling for wigs. Some parts of the story seem ludicrous but are drawn from actual Zambian history, such as the plan for a Zambian space program in the 1960s to send a woman to Mars with several cats. This may or may not have been a joke in real life.

The novel is sprawling and it includes a large cast of characters and I found it hard to remember who is who. The novel is also written in a style more akin to history than a literary narrative which made it hard for me to hold my attention. I would chalk this up as a reader issue than a flaw of the book, though.

Overall, this is a weird and wonderful work of fiction. Serpell is a young contemporary author and it will be interesting to see what she produces next. ( )
  Othemts | Apr 18, 2021 |
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Zt. Zzt. ZZZzzzZZZzzzzZZZzzzzzzZZZZzzzzzzzzZZZzzzzzzZZZzzzzo'ona.
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"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 ReviewTime * NPR * The AtlanticBuzzFeedTordotcom * Kirkus Reviews * BookPage Winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award * Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction * Winner of 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.   Shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award * 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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