The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

The Old Drift cover

The Old Drift is an epic novel spanning genres and generations that tells the story of three families in Zambia and how their lives interact along with politics, science, and colonialism. It begins in 1904 and moves across the twentieth century and into the future, with a mysterious swarm chorus that floods into the gap between each part.

At first, the novel seems to be the kind of book that entwines the narratives of characters across generations, showing human error, life, and passion. However, it becomes apparent that The Old Drift is more epic than this as it darts through fairy tale, science fiction, and political narrative, all tied by the personal ups and downs of the characters and the Zambian setting. The book is long but keeps changing, revealing connections between characters and hidden gaps as well as these genre shifts. The characters it brings together at the end—Joseph, Jacob, and Naila—are shown to have come from the complicated lives of their parents and grandparents, which gives their technological narrative (which could easily be a novel on its own) a richer history.

The Old Drift is an exciting, epic novel that plays around with genre and character, but keeping a central core of human life and the passing of time. It is one to watch out for.