The Old Drift

READ THE WORLD – Zambia: The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

Narrated by Adjoa Andoh, Richard E. Grant and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

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.

I shall preface this review by saying it took me over two months to listen to this audiobook. Audiobooks are something I tend to listen to when I’m out and about and as I’m not going anywhere due to a pandemic it took me lot longer to read this book than normal. I think this probably did affect how much I enjoyed The Old Drift as it’s such a sprawling generational epic that I’d sometimes forget characters names between times I was listening or find it difficult to remember the different familial connections.

The Old Drift is a generational story, and it is interesting how three generations of three families can keep encountering one another in different ways and in different times. There’s romance and conflicts and just passing freak meetings, and often younger generations have no idea that their parents or grandparents may have met in some capacity before. Characters hear stories about things that as the reader you’ve already seen from someone else’s point of view and you realise that while some characters in these families might not meet themselves, they may have mutual friends or even passing strangers who have talked to them both at some point or another.

People in all three families go through love and loss, have children, and jobs and while there are universal struggles or life events The Old Drift does a good job at showing how their different backgrounds can have an effect on things. One family is descended from Italian immigrants/colonisers and one of their children then marries an Indian hairdresser. Another family is descended from a Black Zambian and a white English blind woman who ran away with her husband back to his home country. And the third family is Black, born and raised in Zambia. Due to their differences in wealth and education these families have very different lives and attitudes. One odd thing does connect them all and that’s hairdressers. A lot of the major life events for these characters happen in a hair salon or because of a hairdresser.

There’s a sci-fi element to The Old Drift I wasn’t expecting. As the story gets to the twenty-first century, there’s the technology we know, iPhones and drones for example, but then there’s advanced tech imbedded in people’s hands so they can use their had like a phone. It has a torch in a fingertip and their palm is a holographic touchscreen connected to the internet. It’s a bit jarring having these futuristic elements after previously appearing to be very true to the various periods of history these generations of characters have been living through – the AIDS epidemic plays a big role in many characters lives when the story gets to the 1980s.

There’s so much going on in The Old Drift that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who and how they’re connect, nevermind finding meaning and some sort of thread to follow through this story. Seeing events from different characters points of view, some more in depth than others, lets you see how different people react to events, how it can be a big deal for some and barely a memory for others, but this can get a little repetitive.

I’m really not sure what else to say about The Old Drift. It is an impressive debut novel and one a may have found easier to follow if I didn’t have such huge gaps between picking it up. There’s a lot of tragedy in these characters lives and maybe it’s because you only see snapshots of their lives at different times but there certainly seems to be more sad moments than happy ones. This, along with how long the book is and the often lyrical narrative, does make The Old Drift a bit dense and hard to get through.

WWW Wednesday – 7 October 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words. It’s a simple meme where you just have to answer three questions:
– What are you currently reading?
– What did you recently finish reading?
– What do you think you’ll read next?

I think it’s a great way to share my recent reads as I don’t review everything I read and often the reviews I do post are behind what I’m actually reading.

What am I currently reading?
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Haven’t got a physical book on the go at the minute but I’m listening to The Old Drift on audio. It’s a multi-generational story set in Zambia following three different families. It also seems to have some fantastical or magical elements to it too.

 

What did I recently finish reading?
The Screaming of the Innocent by Unity Dow
My full review of this will be posted tomorrow but while it took me a while to get through this book, even though it was just over 200 pages, I did like the mystery and how it explored how prevalent corruption was in this time and society.

 

What do I think I’ll read next?
Loveless by Alice Oseman
I’ve kind of been in a bit of a reading slump recently and usually contemporary YA gets me out of that, or at least it’s something I can read very quickly so hopefully that’ll get my reading groove back. I think because my recent reads for the Read the World Project have been quite heavy it’ll be good to have something potentially lighter.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week it’s what books we plan to read this Spring (and what with this coronavirus stuff, I might actually read all of these in the next few months if I can’t leave the house). The first five books are all audiobooks I’ve recently purchased. I go through phases of buying audiobooks – especially when there’s offers on – and they’re all for my Read the World Project.

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Now I don’t really know much about this one, just that it’s set in Zambia and I think it follows a couple of families for generations.

United States of Banana by Giannina Braschi
This seems like a bit of an odd book but an interesting one. It seems like it’s an alternate history kind of thing, set post 9/11 the Puerto Rican prisoner Segismundo has been imprisoned for more than one hundred years, hidden away by his father, the king of the United States of Banana. But when the king frees his son, he makes Puerto Rico the fifty-first state and grants American passports to all Latin American citizens, causing an unexpected power shift with far-reaching implications.

The Door by Magda Szabó
The Door is about the relationship between two women of opposing backgrounds and personalities: one, an intellectual and writer; the other, her housekeeper, a mysterious, elderly woman who sets her own rules and abjures religion, education, pretence and any kind of authority.

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
An expansive essay on colonialism and its effects in Antigua.

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko
My read for Ukraine. All I know about this one is that it caused a stir in Ukraine and it’s very feminist.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I received this via TBTB Santa (thanks again Jocelyn!) and I really want to read it sooner, rather than later. Especially as I think the sequel has recently been published so it’d be nice to read them close together.

Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi
This would be my read for Kuwait and it’ll be the first book I’ve ever read that’s set there.

What Would Boudicca Do? by E. Foley and B. Coates
This was a gift from my best friend and sounds like a great non-fiction read about gaining inspiration from powerful and resourceful women throughout history.

Viper by Bex Hogan
I got this book in a subscription box last year and I remember my friend Bryony reading it and liking it so it’s about time I got to it. It’s kind of a pirate/sea book I think and I can’t even remember the last time I read something like that.

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera
Another book I received in a subscription box. It’s been a while since I’ve read some urban fantasy (I think that’s what this is) or fantasy in general, and I’ve yet to read a book by Adam Silvera so I’m interested in seeing what I make of his writing style.

If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. What books are you hoping to get to over the next few months?