Read The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell Online

The Old Drift

A Zambian debut novel that follows three generations of three families, telling the story of a nation, and of the grand sweep of time 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 story of a small African nation, told by a swarm-like chorus that calls itself mans 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 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 ...

Title : The Old Drift
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781781090497
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 576 pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Old Drift Reviews

  • 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
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  • lisa

    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
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  • Dave

    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

  • 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

    When he had first seen the hairy girl spin in the Signora’s salon, he had felt his ribs stretch near to splintering. ... And when she stopped and her hair kept going, when it bound her so tight that it smothered her, when his brother cut her loose and raised her like Lazarus from his bindings, and when he himself wiped the blood from her back –then Federico Corsale knew faith again. It flooded him now, as he reached the top of a hill, and saw a thread of her hair vanish under the door of an old hunting cabin.


    And if you're wondering if Federico and Sibilla ever get it on, well yes of course they do, this is a multi-generational saga, and you can't have a second generation without sex, so here we go, in the blahest possible terms:

    She spread the coat out and sat, waiting for Federico to stop talking. Finally, he looked at her.

    She looked at him. Her hair trembled.

    As is usual for the first time between a man and a woman, the woman was dissatisfied, the man satisfied too soon. Federico rolled onto his back. Sibilla’s hand was still on his wrist and his pulse ticked faintly, erratically, like cooling metal. They lay there for a while on her mother’s coat, in the seep of his semen and the creep of the gloaming, looking up at the trees above nuzzling their leafy heads.

    ‘Try again?’ she whispered, and he did.


    Agnes's story is a vast improvement. Agnes is a young (white) British woman who develops a type of macular degeneration and goes blind. When she meets and falls in love with Ronald, from East Africa, she doesn't realize he is black until he tells her. Her parents disapprove, so Agnes and Ronald elope to Rhodesia.

    Ronald wondered what Agnes would think if she could see these young boys threading around the dusty vehicles, forming a shifting tangle of humans and things. He looked out of his open window at the sights of almost-home: flame trees competing with jacarandas and bougainvillea for beauty. Flashes of brown skin that made him want to jump out and walk among the people, descend into that warm bath of personhood. And the sun! The sun in its constancy, hot and high in the sky, neither anticipated nor avoided. Just there, not even worth discussing.


    Of course everything goes to shit for Agnes and Ronald because everything goes to shit for every single character in this book. She's isolated, he cheats on her, she simmers in resentment, and so on, next set of characters.

    The story carries on slowly, with a rather emotionless remove. This happened, then this happened, then this happened. Everyone accepts their fate. Sometimes characters get upset, but we are just told they are upset. The text itself steers clear of emotion, but almost winks at the reader.

    A few weeks later, Matha was in a lean-to behind the Matero house, hunched over the book Ba Nkoloso had given her. The pages were polkadotted with mould and barely legible where his scrawled marginalia had spread like weeds over the text. On the floor before her were some basic household items: a glass bottle, a polishing cloth, a small plastic bottle. Matthias slunk around purring, trying to distract her. The sun was setting, making the lean-to glow red. Matha sat in that emerging emergency light, learning how to make a Molotov cocktail. The instructions were simple –something breakable plus something flammable plus something combustible…

    She heard a honk. She covered the book and the items with a chitenge and stood up, brushing the dirt from the seat of her black skirt. She let herself out and locked up. Ba Nkoloso’s pickup truck was wheezing at the back gate, his scattertoothed grin hovering in the driver’s window. Matha climbed into the bed of the pickup, joining the other four UNIP Youth cadets there –Bambo Miti, Fortunate Nkoloso, Reuben Simwinga and Godfrey Mwango. They were wearing all black, too, and sipping Mosi from bottles, which they raised in greeting.


    I know I'm doing a lot of complaining, but it's not that this book is bad, it's just that it's not a good fit for me. I don't like books that move slowly, with a lot of characters and a lot of details and a lot of misery (it seems like every marriage in this book is an unhappy one), but not with a lot of emotion. It has a strong sense of place, and I did learn a little bit about Zimbabwe and Zambia. I also liked how different characters' paths crossed and we occasionally saw the same event from a different angle.

    The book became a lot more interesting in the second half, when I started to see more and more connections between characters.

    I got a little annoyed at the constant mentions of Mosi, though. Isn't there anything else? It can't be that the entire country all drinks the same beer?

    The ending was a disappointment, I needed more of a pay-off after all that work, but instead I was left with a lot of questions. (view spoiler)

    words I looked up:

    muzungu - a (white) foreigner (pl. bazungu)

    muntu- a person (a black person)

    bashikulu - grandfather

    chongololo - millipede; slang for people in love with Western culture.

    futsek - go away (from Afrikaans "voetsek")

    (Note that I did not need to look them up, the context defined them quite nicely, but I was curious to see if I was missing any nuance. I was not.) ...more

  • 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
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  • Barbara Senteney

    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
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  • Michelle

    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
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  • Roxanne

    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