“Extraordinary, ambitious, evocative” – these are the words used to describe The Old Drift, the debut novel by Zambian writer Namwali Serpell, which launches globally today, 26th March 2019. So, who lavished such illustrious praise on a novice literary fiction author? None other than acclaimed British writer Salman Rushdie. And he is not the only one. The Old Drift has appeared on the ‘must read’ lists of countless publications all over the world including O Magazine, USA Today and the BBC. The novel has also received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal.
Since winning the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing in 2015 for her story, ‘The Sack’, the word has been eagerly waiting for the publication of The Old Drift The book has already been compared to the classic novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Hailed as The Great Zambian novel, The Old Drift begins in 1904 on the banks of the Zambezi River and follows the lives of three Zambian families (black, white and brown), covering the triumphs, losses, errors and hopes of subsequent generations as their lives intertwine over the years, covering over a century. The book is a genre-defying epic tale of history, romance, fairytale and science fiction.
“[A]n intimate, brainy, gleaming epic…this is a supremely confident literary performance…The reader who picks up “The Old Drift” is likely to be more than simply impressed. This is a dazzling book, as ambitious as any first novel published this decade. It made the skin on the back of my neck prickle.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“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
“Be prepared because this is a big book in all senses. Clocking in at a whomping 566 pages it sprawls over a century and overflows with staggering brilliance. 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.”
Mwebantu asked Namwali Serpell what Zambian readers can look forward to from her book and how she is dealing with the weight of national expectation.
“’The Great Zambian Novel’ is really a tongue-in-cheek tagline. It started as a joke among me and my friends in college, when I wrote the first words of what would become this book. I did wish to capture a Zambian spirit–a cheeky, subtle sense of humor; a fierce political solidarity; a strong commitment to family; and a radical openness to cultural mixture.
“One Zambia, One Nation” encompasses at least seven tribes and seventy some languages; it also includes migrants from our neighboring countries and from nations much further afield like England, Germany, Italy, India, and China. We are small but mighty! And very cosmopolitan. I hope Zambian readers recognize these aspects of our country in The Old Drift, and that they enjoy the inside jokes, remember the good old days, and debate whether my characters made the right decisions.
At the same time, I know that my vision of Zambia is limited by my experiences: as a mixed-race Namwanga woman of a particular social class, who immigrated to the US at a young age and was educated at fancy schools. Beyond all that, I am quite a strange person! (You can ask my family.) So, my version of the country includes fantastical and science fictional and political elements that can’t really be held to any standard of “truth,” “reality,” or “authenticity.” There are countless other versions of Zambia, and I hope to inspire other Zambians to forge them into works of art, too. In the end, my highest hope for The Old Drift is that it is only one of many Great Zambian Novels to come”.
Namwali Serpell was born in Zambia in 1980 and moved to the United States with her family at the age of 9. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. Serpell also writes for The Guardian, The New Yorker, The L.A. Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. Namwali is the daughter of former University of Zambia Vice Chancellor, Professor Robert Serpell and former UNAIDS Zambia Country Representative Dr Namposya Nampanya Serpell.
The Old Drift is available now for K145 at all branches of Bookworld.