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Namwali Serpell - THE OLD DRIFT, 3/26

Guest Katy Lasell

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Guest Katy Lasell

Hi all!


I'm posting in the hopes that AALBC might review Caine Prize for African Writing winner Namwali Serpell's debut novel, THE OLD DRIFT (3/26, Hogarth/Crown, ISBN-13 978-1101907146), which just received a 4th starred pre-pub review (blurbs at the bottom of the post).


THE OLD DRIFT broaches the topics of colonialism, independence, the AIDS epidemic, white supremacy, familial legacy, and the infinite variations of lust and love, all depicted in a literary style that mixes historical fiction, fairy tale, suspense, magical realism, and science fiction. Instead of writing an "immigration story," Namwali has written a "reverse immigration story," in which people move TO Africa from the West. That's just one of many ways in which she subverts literary tropes and defies stereotypical Western beliefs about Africa. 


Namwali's popular New Yorker piece "The Zambian 'Afronaut' Who Wanted to Join the Space Race" serves as the (true) background for one part of the novel. (This essay has been optioned for film.)


I've included more info about the book and Namwali below. We'll have advanced finished copies available next week, and I can also send over a digital galley now, if you'd like. Thanks so much for your consideration!






Hogarth likens THE OLD DRIFT to WHITE TEETH meets CLOUD ATLAS meets HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, and many of the early reviews (from literary previews and pre-pubs) liken her to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison. Born and raised in Zambia, Namwali's debut "spans two centuries in Zambian history, mixing styles from Gothic to Afrofuturist" (BBC quote from 2019 literary preview).


Namwali's multi-generational novel beautifully depicts various characters from three families--black, white, and brown--over the generations, from an elderly white British pioneer near Victoria Falls in 1903 to a young woman (of mixed Indian, Italian, British, and Zambian descent) helping to form a revolution in the not-too-distant future. A few of those characters include: a girl covered head to toe in hair; a blind tennis player with eye-riddled skin; a woman who literally can't stop crying; and a group of Afronauts who try to join the Space Race, making Zambia the first in space.


You can find more information about the book, as well as an image of the book cover HERE.



Namwali won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing in 2015 (and promptly decided to split her £10,000 winnings with all of the finalists; how great is that?); in 2014 she was chosen as one of the Africa 39, a Hay Festival project to identify the most promising African writers under 39; in 2011 she received a Rona Jaffe Writers' Award; her story "Muzungu" appeared in Best American Short Stories; and she's written for the New Yorker, New York Review of Books, McSweeney's, Tin House, n+1, etc. (see here)--creative work and also critical work. 



"In this smartly composed epic, magical realism and science fiction interweave with authentic history, and the ‘colour bar,’ the importance of female education, and the consequences of technological change figure strongly. It’s also a unique immigration story showing how people from elsewhere are enfolded into the country’s fabric. . . . Serpell’s novel is absorbing, occasionally strange, and entrenched in Zambian culture—in all, an unforgettable original."—BOOKLIST, starred review

"Serpell’s debut is a rich, complex saga of three intertwined families over the course of more than a century. . . . Serpell expertly weaves in a preponderance of themes, issues, and history, including Zambia’s independence, the AIDS epidemic, white supremacy, patriarchy, familial legacy, and the infinite variations of lust and love. Recalling the work of Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez as a sometimes magical, sometimes horrifically real portrait of a place, Serpell’s novel goes into the future of the 2020s, when the various plot threads come together in a startling conclusion. Intricately imagined, brilliantly constructed, and staggering in its scope, this is an astonishing novel."

—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review


“The past, present, and future of an African nation is filtered with humane wit, vibrant rhetoric, and relentless ingenuity. . . . Blending intimate and at times implausible events with real-life history, this first novel . . . enchants its readers with prose . . . luxuriant and flowing. . . . Comparisons with Gabriel García Márquez are inevitable and likely warranted. But this novel’s generous spirit, sensory richness, and visionary heft make it almost unique among magical realist epics.”—KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review


“Three multicultural families' pasts and presents, told by a swarming chorus of voices, culminate in a tale as mysterious as it is timeless. . . . This stunning cross-genre debut draws on Zambian history . . . that only reinforces the far-flung exploration of humanity.”—LIBRARY JOURNAL, starred review

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