Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift”

Namwali Serpell’s debut novel The Old Drift, published by Penguin Random House, will be available for your reading pleasure on March 26, 2019.

Namwali Serpell first emerged to many followers of African writing when she was listed among the Africa 39; writers under forty likely to make an impact on our industry in the future. That list is incidentally starting to get a Makerere African Writers Conference from 1962 vibe as those who were listed keep popping up in whatever news is written about the African literary community.

Following on that listing, Namwali Serpell would make a splash when she won the Caine Prize for African writing in 2015. She was the first Zambian to win it. The shocking part for many observers was that she opted to share the prize with fellow shortlisted writers instead of taking the money and running like some of us would have shamelessly done.

Some writers who have won the Caine Prize like Leila Aboulela (2000), Helon Habila (2001), Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (2003), Brian Chikwava (2004), E.C. Osundu (2009), and Noviolet Bulawayo (2011) have gone on to write novels that we love. Namwali Serpell looks set to join this group as her debut novel The Old Drift makes an appearance next month. The novel’s blurb states this;

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 science fiction. The moral? To err is human.

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 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 – form a symphony about what it means to be human.

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 sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with color and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.

Check here for more details on what is premised at being the great Zambian novel.