This week, I want to tell you about a book by a Zambian author, Namwali Serpell, who published her debut novel last year. The Old Drift depicts the lives of three Zambian families – one black, one brown and one white – as their lives come together over 100 plus years. It is a clever mix of history, starting in colonial Zambia in 1904, magical realism, social realism, science fiction and concludes as a thriller. 

I listened to the book read by Adjoa Andoh, Richard E. Grant and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. I loved this version as it really brought the book to life and would highly recommend it – one of the best audio books I have listened to! 

I am sure many Zambians will love reading this book as there are many places they would recognise: UNZA’s hostels, Kalingalinga, Kabulonga, Leopard’s Hill Cemetry among many other places. It certainly puts Lusaka on the world map. 

Namwali moved with her family to America when she was nine years old and attended high school. She subsequently studied English at Yale and then a Phd at Harvard. She now teaches at University of California (Berkeley campus). She won the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing. 

She is mixed race: the daughter of a British psychology professor at University of Zambia, Robert Serpell who was also the university’s Vice-Chancellor from 2003-2006, and a mother from Northern Province. She says at times struggled with her mixed heritage, especially in the US where life is very binary – one is either black or white. In the end, as she felt forced to decide, she chose to identify as black but says “blackness is just part of what the family is”. With all the discussions currently about racism, this adds an additional point to consider. Is this yet another example of white supremacy where we compel people to choose? 

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