But it is certainly not a paradise. Its structure is formal, three parts containing three sections each — “The Grandmothers,” “The Mothers” and “The Children.” Each of the nine sections is centered on one dominant character, all women in the first two parts, and, in the final section, two young men and one young woman. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Lisa Jewell. Historical figures mingle with fictional ones in these family sagas. Sometimes the history, the medical information and the science are laid on with too heavy a hand. We've been around here as long as you have — for eons before, say the fossils.". In postwar Piedmont, we see a partisan fighter murder his brother to steal his job on the Zambezi river as well as his African-born lover. All Rights Reserved. Namwali Serpell. However, in the final section of the book, when Serpell daringly pushes past the present day to take us into a technologically advanced future and a climax that combines revolution and catastrophe, the mosquito trope is cleverly transformed and begins to make sense. The final chapter is a close reworking of the opening of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and the first chapter is written in the pitch-perfect voice of a jolly, cruel British colonist: "The worst difficulty of exploration, I learned, is that it is a tormenting isolation. Pre-publication book reviews and features keeping readers and industry This decision can be reversed. With ancestors like Percy M. Clark, originally from England, the Tonga man N’gulube from Zambia (both of them historical figures by the way) and Giovanna from Italy, the story revolves around the lives of three grandmothers, three mothers and finally three children. 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. You also get the sense that the descriptive excess is a conscious choice; as one character says, "[W]hat ruined this country was efficiency — the British worship of efficiency." Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. Agnes, the white upper-class English girl (and granddaughter of Percy Clark), loses her sight and falls in love with a black man without knowing he’s black, and, expelled from her family, follows him to Africa to become a gentle, grand presence throughout the book. And the vast night tree under which we all stand bloomed with pale blossoms once more.". To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. These are indeed three ways humans think about space: As something legible and predictive, as a resource to exploit, and as a source of beauty and awe. These chapters have a wonderful, apocalyptic finality, with floods and flames, speeches and sacrifice. Yet it is this very part of the city that forms the start of something new. by At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot. "We're perfectly matched ..." they say. Like a … ‧ Namwali Serpell’s extraordinary, ambitious, evocative first novel, “The Old Drift,” contributes powerfully to this new wave. The black sack scattered its loot of light back across the universe again. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. by After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. In the final chapters, three young people, descendants of the three family lines traced in The Old Drift, mount a revolution by hacking the Beads and using the mosquitoes' robotic twins, tiny solar-powered drones, to mount an attack on a system of oppression in place since the founding of Zambia. “The Old Drift” is a strong and confident enough piece of writing to stand on its own two feet and is perhaps not well served by being placed on the shoulders of giants. One momentous day, Clark, addled by fever, is stumbling around the lobby of the Victoria Falls Hotel and somehow manages to inadvertently pull a hank of hair from the pate of the hotel’s Italian manager, whose 5-year-old daughter angrily responds by striking an "innocent native" passer-by so hard that “he became an imbecile.” From the moment that inexplicable calamity occurs, the descendants of these individuals find their respective fates entwined through what’s left of the 20th century and beyond as the land around them morphs into the nation of Zambia. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. All rights reserved. A growing sense that The Old Drift could go on for ever is tribute to its inventiveness but also a feeling of weightlessness in what begins to resemble a series of vignettes strung together with lusty sex scenes (the main source of interaction between characters, with diminishing returns). Namwali Serpell The reader who picks up, Be prepared because this is a big book in all senses. Apart from the historical figures of Percy M. Clark, Mr. N’gulube and many others such as Edward Nkoloso, founder of the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy, there are many more references to well-known and lesser-known facts from Zambia’s history. Meanwhile, a vaccine developed with foreign money is being tested on unwitting Zambians: "[B]lack people have always made great guinea pigs," one character remarks bitterly. Meanwhile, another recent novel, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s “Kintu,” has been called a Ugandan “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Trailing clouds of glory do they come. What initially seems an old-fashioned saga proves more interested in genre than in character. ‧ I grew to care for the characters - especially the women. Embed our reviews … Book Summary 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. Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish. For 200 pages or so The Old Drift is electric with the sense that Serpell is laying down pieces in a puzzle kept teasingly out of sight. To err also means to wander, and The Old Drift does, shamelessly: It does not acknowledge restraints of species or time or perspective or taste or page length (568). Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s “House of Stone,” published in the United States in January, has already been highly praised in The Guardian for summing up “not only … Zimbabwean history, but also all of African colonial history” — a large claim on behalf of any novel. Set mostly in Zambia, The Old Drift relates the life story of three families whose histories become thoroughly and often surprisingly entwined. Still, even though, writers to bear witness to the results of the pandemic, the strangeness and beauty of human faces, the “afterlife” of an author who wins the Nobel Prize in Literature, creating an anthology of Indigenous poetry. Namwali Serpell’s vibrant, intellectually rich debut novel, “The Old Drift,” is in keeping with that tradition, and like any good nation-hoovering novel, it too refuses to conform to expectations. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress. How? Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. But this novel’s generous spirit, sensory... by At first glance this may strike the reader as overly schematic. This collection of short stories, extracts from novels and other writings, promised and in fact turned out to be a selection “of some of the most varied and exciting new work in world literature today, by writers who are certainly going to be among the most celebrated of our time”. That it doesn’t read that way is a tribute to the energy with which the stories are told, and the vivid detail in which the world of the book is created. | Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. ], The novel’s greatest strength lies in its creation of three unforgettable female characters. RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2020. Writers who, almost from the first page, take the reader by the hand and apparently effortless convince her or him to follow them to new and exciting territory. The year is 1904, and an itinerant would-be photographer named Percy Clark has wandered from his native England to a colonial outpost along the Zambezi River in what was then known as the Northwestern Rhodesia territory. Along the way many more people join in from the countries already mentioned but also from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), America and India. The children and the children’s children of these women find themselves inexorably, absurdly, and at times tragically drawn together through the history of both Zambia and the patch of land where their ancestors first collided. Sometime in the 1960s, for instance, Percy’s wealthy granddaughter, Agnes, deprived by blindness of a promising tennis career, falls in love with a brilliant black exchange student whom she accompanies back to the soon-to-be-independent Zambia he calls home.