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The Old Drift

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  215 ratings  ·  88 reviews
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
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published March 26th 2019 by Hogarth Press (first published March 25th 2019)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  215 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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Sonja Arlow
3.5 stars

The book is full of juxtapositions.

British colonialism vs African revolutionaries, 3rd world poverty vs high tech drones, beautiful powerful writing vs meaningless ramblings.

I really enjoyed some of the true historic events the author weaved into the story. I travelled to Zambia about 5 years ago and read up about its history but nowhere was it stated that Zambia had its own space program in the 1960’s. A revolutionary, Edward Nkolose headed up the Zambia National Academy of Science,
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Damn-busting 5 stars!!

A superb saga surveying 3 generations of intertwining families as they migrate or marry the indigenous and assimilate into Zambia. Highly affecting (almost to shock and awe with its denouement) and brimming with vibrant characters, without an ounce of romanticizing or sentimentalities.

If you trust my reviews, you should believe me when I HOLLER that it exceeds all the hype. I cannot imagine 10 fiction or nonfiction books will be published this year that are better.

A must f
As a debut novel The Old Drift is quite extraordinary. It’s aim seems high and, to my eye, it meets what are its likely goals. This is a tale of Zambia, a combination of historical fiction, with smatterings of historical moments, mythical episodes and characters bordering on, but not quite, fantasy, and elements of science fiction as the story ends in the near future. It opens in colonial times and Stanley Livingstone is introduced early on as Victoria Falls becomes a major feature during the su ...more
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historical fiction (based on The Autobiography of an Old Drifter by Percy M. Clark 1874-1937). Surrealism involving a woman with massive amounts of hair, a woman who cries nonstop, and a blind tennis player. An ancient Greek chorus in the form of mosquitoes. And science fiction in the form of miniature drones. Zambian author Serpell includes all of this in her richly written, multigenerational novel.

The bulk of the story feels as if it is being observed from the vantage point of the Old Drift ov
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Michelle by: Millions Most Anticipated
3.5 stars
The Old Drift is a prodigious undertaking both in scope and time span. Set in Rhodesia/Zambia from 1903 to 2023, The Old Drift starts off as a historical fiction and ends as a futuristic parable. It is a generational tale that is as much about what makes a nation as what makes a family.

In this debut novel Serpell addresses colorism, class differences, gender politics and revolution. She draws the reader's attention to the meek and disenfranchised while questioning the definition of pro
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A woman covered, head to toe, in long flowing hair. A young tennis prodigy who succumbs to blindness. A woman unable to stop crying. Intriguing, yes? Truly memorable characters and the matriarchs of the three families - one white, one black and one mixed race - that are at the core of Namwali Serpell’s ambitious, sprawling, multigenerational novel that traces the history of Zambia. Serpell is a gifted storyteller, in fact this is very much like a novel of linked stories, looking at each family a ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When the publisher's blurb says it's the great Zambian novel you didn't know you were waiting for, it's spot on. It is a generation-spanning novel that mainly takes place in Zambia, a landlocked Central African country nestled beneath the Congo and east of Zimbabwe. It traces the history of Zambian society from Colonial times in the late 1800's as the British and Italians explored a new frontier, built dams, and escaped their own crowded cities to a new uncharted world, through Independence, to ...more
Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

The Old Drift is the first Zambian-authored novel I have read and, now enthused by Serpell's inventiveness and vision, I can't wait to discover more! This certainly won't be a novel to appeal to all readers, but if, as I did, you loved One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Where The Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky, you will probably adore The Old Drift. Serpell tells the story of a nation from 1904 until the 2020s
Kasa Cotugno
Epic in style, scope and material, The Old Drift presents Zambia, and by extension, the effects of colonization versus native population and personality. Each of the characters rings true, and some are actually based on actual people, but Namwali Serpell has done a masterwork for her debut novel. The writing is lush, the imagery sensual with much attention given to sensory effect and strong characterization that delineates the large cast. Highly recommended despite its huge size.
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Review coming
DNF @ 25%. The brief opening section of this book was a wonderful first-person piece of ventriloquism, as Namwali Serpell totally inhabits the mindset of a racist colonist man in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) at the turn of the twentieth centuryy. I was immediately convinced that Serpell is an exciting and versatile writer. However, I found the two long third-person sections that followed didn't live up to this promise; both felt so pedestrian. There was a nice touch of magical realism in the i ...more
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
DNF @ 10%
The story unfortunately didn't hook me. Magical realism doesn't always go down well for me, and the story of the first woman is definitely pretty sad. Couldn't bring myself to go back to the book because of that.

I thank the publisher for a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Blog | Bookstagram | Bookish Twitter
Dawn Michelle
This book was absolutely NOT for me. At all.
First, it is told in short story form; each chapter being a different story with a different family, starting with "The Grandmothers". By the time you get to section 2, you have forgotten who belongs to whom and that just continues as the story progresses. And by the time you get to the [VERY unsatisfying] end, you just forget who everyone is and just what the story is all about. And you end the story very very confused and are left with a million que


Visit the settings in the novel

Epic read detailing the lives of three generations and three families in Zambia. The story ebbs and flows like the Zambezi River which runs through the landscape of the book. Then there’s the dam built by Italian colonizers. This river is vital to the lives who live there and the villages and settlements along it is where the book drifts and picks up themes as it goes along.

The Old Drift is an epic novel. Both in size and scope. It’s not an easy read and is quite c
Gautam Bhatia
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very rich and emotionally satisfying read. Like Marquez, sometimes it becomes a little difficult to keep track of who is related to whom in this generational multi-family saga, but the threads come together often enough, and the beginning and the ending are both brilliantly climactic. Reminds me of another novel I read recently, Jennifer Makumbi's 'Kintu.' Recommended.
Elena L.
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
DNF @ 20%. The premise of The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell was very interesting - this book follows three generations of families set in Zambia. While the opening had some mystery, it took me too long to connect with the story and I felt the plot quite disjointed. In addition, I didn't feel attached to the characters, in spite of their uniqueness. There are some magical realism and cultural aspect and the writing is completely vivid. Also the cover is gorgeous.

This book is unique in many aspect
Nadine Jones
I received a free copy as part of the GR First Reads program, and I was super excited to win this, but hoo boy! This. Book. Is. So. Slow. And. Long. And I was completely unprepared for the magical realism. Magical realism is very much Not My Thing. But if you like long, detailed, quirky sagas with a mix of genres, you may love this book.

This story takes some surprising turns as it follows a lengthy, tortuous, somewhat snarled path, and it takes its sweet time about it, too. It alternates between
I was completely intimidated by the size of this book. My ARC is 578 pages, small-font typeface, with narrow margins. I really, really wanted to read this book, and when this behemoth copy fell into my lap, I gritted my teeth, and went for it. I was hoping that at some point I would fall into the story, and it would read more quickly. Unfortunately, that moment never came.

The fates of the characters begin with the grandmothers, then carry on to the mothers, and then the children. One grandmother
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great and inventive debut. Sucks you in as soon as the generations begin their own tales.
Lel Budge
Oct 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
This begins in 1904, telling the tale of white British pioneers in Rhodesia and the ‘natives’. Initially there’s a lot of hunting and the use of the ‘N’ word seemed to be thrown in to show how awful the English were with their colonial imperialism.

However, it then settles into the intriguing tales of families of different backgrounds but all linked in some way to early Rhodesia. It covers generations through loves, marriages, heartbreak with tales of politics in Africa and the birth of a new nat
It almost seems impossible to review a novel that’s over 650 pages long…..I mean how to begin? The Old Drift caught me up immediately into a world of British explorers trying to tame the wilds of Africa. Namwali Serpell’s Zambian novel surpasses visual equivalents. You are in Africa with these characters. Just when you’ve become enthralled, Serpell switches the scene to an equally enticing British tennis player with an affliction I’ll let you discover. From there you’ll be treated a chapter with ...more
Talia Smart
DNF @ 13%

Just not feeling it after several perspectives. The writing is absolutely GORGEOUS and I've even done some underlining, but I haven't been able to connect with the characters.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Old Drift, by Namwali Serpell, is an ambitious, sprawling, epic story of four generations of three families—one white, one black, one brown—spanning the hundred years from early 20th century colonial life in what was then Rhodesia to the early 21st century in what becomes the African country of Zambia. Attempting a plot summary of such a sweeping book is unwieldy and unnecessary, since its themes are the important element in Serpell’s book, as she unites the stories of each of the generation ...more
Keith Chawgo
Serpell’s new novel ‘The Old Drift’ is a book that I found extremely difficult to connect with. The story behind the pretentious writing style is actually a pretty good premise but gets lost within the prose and styles the author choses to use.

The characters are well written and although the story is told in the first person, the narration does provide the village and the relationships rather well. The story unfolds and unveils itself to its own pace and timing. There are some difficulties that
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift is a blend of genres I have never seen before. On the one hand, it is very much a family saga. There is even a sprawling family tree included at the beginning of the book. But, by the end, it is an Afrofuturist revolutionary story. The various segments of the book combine to create a conclusive ending, but the plot meanders as much as the Zambesi River that appears to book end the whole tale...

Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of
Barred Owl Books
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 s
Barbara Senteney
Mar 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
The descriptions of the african countryside is the only thing that this book has going for it, those were lovely. I am DNFing this book at page 17 I cannot read one more racist remark. I refuse to read a story where someone is bragging about shooting a Nig and it only cost him 10 bob, that is the 4th racial slur in 17 pages, I do not believe in censorship except for what I myself read, but this is going in the trash, that will be a first for me.

I received this book in exchange for a fair honest
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
(Follow @morganreadsalot on Instagram for more reviews)
Thanks for the free book @crownpublishing, and Happy Pub Day!

I thought this was a 3.5 star read for me, but the more distance I get from it, the more layers unfold because it keeps springing to mind! The scope alone is outstanding. This is an epic that spans 1939 to 2023 in Zambia, from white colonialism to a not-so-distant future full of technological advances that threaten and empower, with the effects and spread of HIV and AIDS blanketing
Gina Gray
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in return for an unbiased review.

This book is...a lot. It's the interwoven stories of three Zambian families, and Zambia itself, over several generations. This is mostly well-done, but I started to get tired of the constantly shifting narrative, especially when new characters (and new POVs) were being introduced half-way through a 600 page brick. I would start to get swept up in the story, attached to the characters, and then- oh, done with that for now,
Coco Torre
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A First Novel (hopefully not her last)

This novel spanning well over a 100 years was absolutely beautiful. Her language pulls you in, envelopes you in it’s beauty. I am completely taken with her writing. Such a treat. Do yourself a favor and take the plunge.
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NAMWALI SERPELL is a Zambian writer who teaches at UC Berkeley. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award in 2011 and was selected for the Africa 39 in 2014. She won the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing.

THE OLD DRIFT is her first novel. The chapter entitled "The Falls" is derived from The Autobiography of An Old Drifter, by the historical figure, Percy M. Clark (1874-1937).

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