The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell #bookreview

The Old Drift

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 colour 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.

My thoughts on the Old Drift

This is one of those books I chose because it sounded different, a far cry from my usual fair of contemporary and crime fiction. And it was different, which – for me – was a good and a bad thing.

I’ll start with the good. For me, this was mainly at the beginning, probably the first third of the book. This is where the woman covered in hair comes in, as well as the woman who never stops crying. I really enjoyed their tales of love found and lost and the way it changed their lives and the lives of those around them.

You could have taken them and read them as short stories in and of themselves. The language painted a real picture of a world I know very little of and of characters I found fascinating. I was completely drawn in.

Then things got complicated. The language was the same, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes lyrical. The characters, though, were less compelling, less people I wanted to know. And the connections between them, while I understand the point of trying to pull everything together to get to the point of the story…it all felt so stretched I found it hard to suspend the disbelief I needed to, to enjoy the novel.

As a result, I found myself flagging. It was a struggle to get through some of the chapters and I found myself forgetting who was who and how they were connected. At 500+ pages, this is a long book but it felt longer. Because of this, I can’t recommend it…unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me!

Emma x

Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

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