H O G A R T H   P R E S S   |   M A R C H  26 ,  2 0 1 9 

B O O K T O U R 2 0 1 9

I N T E R V I E W S

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It sounds like

a sentence: Victoria Falls.

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.

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 his fate with those of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This error sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between these three Zambian families, as they continually collide over the course of the century, into the present, and beyond.

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 – THE OLD DRIFT is a gripping, unforgettable debut novel.


Advance Praise for the old Drift

★★★★ FOUR STARRED PRE-PUB REVIEWS ★★★★

"Serpell’s debut is a rich, complex saga of three intertwined families over the course of more than a century.... Recalling the work of Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez as a sometimes magical, sometimes horrifically real portrait of a place, Serpell’s novel goes into the future of the 2020s, when the various plot threads come together in a startling conclusion. Intricately imagined, brilliantly constructed, and staggering in its scope, this is an astonishing novel." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

 "The past, present, and future of an African nation is filtered with humane wit, vibrant rhetoric, and relentless ingenuity through the interweaving sagas of three very different families…. Comparisons with Gabriel García Márquez are inevitable and likely warranted. But this novel’s generous spirit, sensory richness, and visionary heft make it almost unique among magical realist epics." KIRKUS REVIEWS

“"In this smartly composed epic, magical realism and science fiction interweave with authentic history, and the ‘colour bar,’ the importance of female education, and the consequences of technological change figure strongly. It’s also a unique immigration story showing how people from elsewhere are enfolded into the country’s fabric… Serpell’s novel is absorbing, occasionally strange, and entrenched in Zambian culture—in all, an unforgettable original." BOOKLIST

““Three multicultural families' pasts and presents, told by a swarming chorus of voices, culminate in a tale as mysterious as it is timeless.... This stunning cross-genre debut draws on Zambian history and... reinforces the far-flung exploration of humanity.” LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Namwali Serpell’s impressive first novel is an indulgent, centuries-spanning slab of life marbled with subplots, zigzagging between characters and decades to play snakes and ladders with the bloodlines of three Zambian families with roots from around the world.” —THE GUARDIAN OBSERVER

“It’s hard to believe this is a debut, so assured is its language, so ambitious its reach, and yet The Old Drift is indeed Namwali Serpell’s first novel, and it signifies a great new voice in fiction." NYLON MAGAZINE

On lists of 2019 books anticipated by the Washington Post, BBC, The Guardian, The Millions, BuzzFeed, HuffPo, LitHub, Nylon, Elle, Vulture, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, PopSugar, Southern Living, Bookish, Vo1. Brooklyn, and Bustle. Featured as a debut writer to watch by Publishers Weekly and Barnes & Noble.

“In turns charming, heartbreaking, and breathtaking, The Old Drift is a staggeringly ambitious, genre-busting multigenerational saga with moxie for days… I wanted it to go on forever. A worthy heir to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.” —CARMEN MARIA MACHADO, author of Her Body & Other Parties

 “From the poetry and subtle humor constantly alive in its language, to the cast of fulsome characters that defy simple categorization, The Old Drift is a novel that satisfies on all levels. Namwali Serpell excels in creating portraits of resilience—each unique and often heartbreaking. In The Old Drift the individual struggle is cast against a world of shifting principles and politics and Serpell captures the quicksand nature of a nation’s roiling change with exacting precision. My only regret is that once begun, I reached the end all too soon.” —ALICE SEBOLD, author of The Lovely Bones

 “An astonishing novel, a riot for the senses, filled with the music and scents and sensations of Zambia. Namwali Serpell writes about people, land and longing with such compassionate humor and precision, there’s an old wisdom in these pages. In short, make room on your shelf next to a few of your other favorites: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Edwidge Danticat jump to mind. It’s brilliant. This woman was born to write!” —ALEXANDRA FULLER, author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight

The Old Drift is a dazzling genre-bender of a novel, an astonishing historical and futuristic feat, a page-turner with a plot that consistently and cleverly upends itself. Playfully poetic and outright serious at once, it is one of the most intelligent debuts I’ve read this year. No matter your reading preference, there’s something in it for you.” —CHINELO OKPARANTA, author of Under the Udala Trees

“It’s difficult to think of another novel that is at once so sweepingly ambitious and so intricately patterned, delivering the pleasures of saga and poetry in equal measure. The Old Drift is an endlessly innovative, voraciously brilliant book, and Namwali Serpell is among the most distinctive and exciting writers to emerge in years.” —GARTH GREENWELL, author of What Belongs to You

 “If, as she writes, ‘history is the annals of the bully on the playground,’ then in The Old Drift, Namwali Serpell wreaks havoc on the Zambian annals by rewriting the past, creating a new present, and conjuring an alternative future. In refusing to be bound by genre, Serpell is audacious and shrewd. This is a Zambian history of pain and exploitation, trial and error, and hope and triumph.” —JENNIFER MAKUMBI, author of Kintu

 “The Old Drift is an extraordinary meditation on identity, the history of a nation, love, politics, family, friendship and life. Serpell’s prose is dazzling. Darting back and forth through the decades and mixing different genres, Namwali has delivered an original, remarkable, magical work that both delights and challenges.” —CHIKA UNIGWE, author of On Black Sisters’ Street and Night Dancer

The Old Drift is a stunning achievement: a novel of epic scope and powerful vision that also manages to be intimate, tender, and very funny. A truly important debut from a brilliant new voice.” —FIONA MCFARLANE, author of The Night Guest and The High Places


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Image of the Old Drift © Peter Roberts