January-February 2021 Selection
Author Namwali Serpell, born in Zambia, uses that nation as the canvas for her epic work. The structure of this rambunctious debut novel follows three very different families, intertwined over three generations. The children and grandchildren come together in tragic, absurd and inevitable ways, tracing Zambia’s path through history. And the book is not shy about its ambition and reach: love meets Afrofuturism, marries into magical realism, entwines with historical fiction and is fused with speculative fiction.
The novel covers much ground, zigzagging back and forth through Africa and Europe, family to family, children to children. The reader follows and drifts along the matrilineal heritage, which is how the book is organized: grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters. Serpell begins, however, with a grandfather, a British photographer, making a living near Victoria Falls, slightly over 100 years ago. Inexplicable actions here propel a drift through love, disease, space programs; a blending of strange, vivid fiction with actual Zambian history. The saga concludes in the near future, involving digital embedded devices, drones and new vaccines. Serpell, who taught writing at UC Berkeley for more than 10 years and is currently an English professor at Harvard, has given us a lush, vibrant and inventive saga that we’re proud to recommend.
About the Author
Born in Lusaka, Zambia, Namwali Serpell lives in San Francisco and teaches English at UC Berkeley. In her acclaimed debut novel, The Old Drift, the author combines historical fiction, magical realism and science fiction as she takes readers on an amazing journey through past, present, and future Zambia.