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Get ready for an extraordinary listening experience with Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift.” This beautifully crafted audiobook is a unique exploration of Zambia’s history and its speculative future. Through compelling storytelling and exceptional voice acting, the audiobook takes you on a journey through time, space, and the different layers of the story.

In this comprehensive audiobook review, we will explore the background of the author, Namwali Serpell, and take a closer look at the plot, themes, and characters of “The Old Drift.” Moreover, we will discuss the elements of speculative fiction and historical context present in the book, as well as the quality of audiobook narration and performance.

Whether historical fiction or speculative fiction is your go-to genre, “The Old Drift” has something for everyone. Join us on this literary journey through the Zambian wilderness, and discover why this book is a must-read for audiobook enthusiasts.

About the Author, Namwali Serpell

Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer, born in Lusaka in 1980. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at Yale University, and her Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, where she taught as a Professor of English before joining the faculty at the University of California Berkeley.

Serpell has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and Tin House. Her debut novel, “The Old Drift,” was published in 2019 and has been well received by both readers and critics.

Serpell’s writing has been recognized with various awards. She received the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2015 for her short story The Sack, making her the first Zambian writer to win the award. In 2020, she was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction by Yale University, which recognized her as a writer “of exceptional talent.”

Namwali Serpell’s Other Works

Aside from “The Old Drift,” Namwali Serpell has published several other works of fiction and non-fiction. She has contributed to collections such as The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows, American Writers Museum: Anatomy of a Collection, and New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tatu).

Year Publication Title Genre
2008 The Banana Eater Short Story Collection
2015 The Sack Short Story
2017 Seven Modes of Uncertainty Short Story Collection

With her unique voice and perspective, Namwali Serpell continues to be a celebrated author within the literary world.

Overview of “The Old Drift”

“The Old Drift” by Namwali Serpell is a novel set in Zambia that spans from the colonial era to a futuristic future. The story follows the lives of three families: the English colonizers, the Afrofusionist Sibanda family, and the Indian-British Matha family. The plot revolves around their intersecting lives, exploring themes such as love, power, identity, and the consequences of human actions.

Plot Summary

The novel begins with Percy, a minor character, being born in the colonial era and swiftly skips ahead to the 1990s, where the reader is introduced to Naila Sibanda, a teenager with unusual hair and a great ambition to become a pilot. We later meet Matha and her husband who make it their life’s work to start up Zambia’s first university. The novel weaves its way through a futuristic world where humans have adopted an unusual form of communication, with the main aim of trying to break down barriers while exploring the experiences of the three families.

Main Themes

The novel examines a number of themes central to life in Zambia during different eras. One of the primary themes is the notion of colonialism and its far-reaching effects on society. Another central issue in “The Old Drift” is the concept of identity, particularly as it pertains to the formation of the modern Zambian state. Serpell also explores the role of technology in the world and its impact on human behavior and consciousness. Love and power are also explored by Serpell to bring a unique perspective on the way human interactions and relationships contribute to the formation and dissolution of societies.

Writing Style of Namwali Serpell

Namwali Serpell’s writing style in “The Old Drift” is a noteworthy aspect of the novel that adds to its richness and depth. With a focus on exploring the complexities of Zambian history and politics, Serpell employs various narrative techniques to weave together a story that is both compelling and thought-provoking.

Narrative Techniques

One of the most prominent narrative techniques used by Serpell is her integration of multiple perspectives and timelines. The novel spans multiple generations, and Serpell deftly shifts between the viewpoints of different characters, providing a unique and varied lens through which readers can view the story. This approach allows for an exploration of the wide-reaching impact of historical events and highlights the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate individuals and societies.

Another effective technique employed by Serpell is her use of magical realism to explore the fantastical and futuristic elements of the story. This technique allows for a deeper exploration of the novel’s themes and provides a bridge between history and speculative fiction. Additionally, Serpell’s writing style includes vivid descriptions and poetic language, creating a powerful sense of immersion for readers.

Impact on the Story

Serpell’s writing style has a significant impact on the overall effectiveness of “The Old Drift” as a work of literature. The author’s ability to seamlessly blend historical fact with fiction is a testament to her skill as a writer and adds to the novel’s depth and complexity. Additionally, her use of varied narrative techniques and poetic language adds to the immersive quality of the story, allowing readers to fully engage with the themes and characters presented in the novel.

Narrative Techniques Used in “The Old Drift”

Narrative Technique Description
Multiple Perspectives Serpell uses different narrators and shifts between perspectives to provide a varied and interconnected view of the story.
Magical Realism The novel incorporates fantastical and futuristic elements, providing a bridge between history and speculative fiction.
Descriptive Language Serpell employs poetic language and vivid descriptions, adding to the immersive quality of the novel.

Historical Context in “The Old Drift”

In “The Old Drift,” author Namwali Serpell weaves together a complex narrative that spans generations and continents. Set in Zambia, the story explores various historical events and social issues that have shaped the country and its people. The novel begins in the early 20th century and continues through the present day, offering a unique glimpse into Zambia’s evolving political and social landscape.

One of the key historical events that is explored in the novel is Zambia’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule. Serpell portrays the various ways in which this struggle affected the lives of ordinary Zambians, highlighting the profound impact of colonialism on the country’s culture and identity. She also explores the complex relationships between Zambians and Europeans during this time period, emphasizing the power imbalances and conflicts that arose as a result of colonialism.

Another important aspect of the historical context in “The Old Drift” is the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zambia. Serpell draws attention to the devastating impact of this disease on the country’s population, exploring the ways in which it has affected individuals and communities over the years.

Throughout the novel, Serpell uses historical context to enrich the narrative and deepen the reader’s understanding of the story. By exploring the various historical events and social issues that have shaped Zambia and its people, she creates a vivid and compelling portrait of a country and people in flux.

Speculative Fiction Elements in “The Old Drift”

One of the most notable aspects of Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift” is its infusion of speculative fiction elements into an otherwise historical context. The novel features futuristic technologies, such as genetically modified mosquitoes and floating cities, that seamlessly blend into the narrative and add depth to the storyline.

Serpell’s use of speculative fiction elements serves as a commentary on the consequences of human actions and the potential paths that society could take in the future. By exploring these possibilities through a work of fiction, Serpell encourages readers to consider the impact of their own choices and the risks involved in advancing technology.

The integration of speculative fiction elements in “The Old Drift” elevates the storytelling and provides a unique perspective on historical events. It highlights the power of science fiction and its ability to explore complex themes and ideas.

Examples of Speculative Fiction Elements in “The Old Drift”

Element Description
Genetically modified mosquitoes Through genetic engineering, mosquitoes are modified to prevent the spread of diseases like malaria.
Floating cities The construction of floating cities, or “cities on the water,” allow for expanded living spaces and serve as a symbol of technological advancement.
Virtual reality The ability to enter immersive virtual reality worlds, which serve as an escape from the mundane and dangerous aspects of the physical world.

The use of these speculative fiction elements contributes to a richer, more layered story and adds to the impact of the novel. It is a testament to Namwali Serpell’s skill as a writer, and her ability to explore complex themes through a blend of genres and styles.

Character Development in “The Old Drift”

The Old Drift boasts a cast of complex characters, each experiencing unique journeys throughout the novel. The story spans across generations, showcasing the growth and development of the main protagonist(s), whose motivations drive the core of the narrative.

The character development in the novel is intricate and multifaceted, showcasing the depth of Serpell’s storytelling. The protagonists are not one-dimensional, but rather evolve in response to the conflicts and challenges they face throughout the story.

The character arcs explore themes such as identity, power, and love, making for a rich and rewarding reading experience. The Old Drift is a must-read for those who enjoy character-driven stories and appreciate the art of character development.

Character Development in The Old Drift

Example of Character Development

Character Name Starting Point Ending Point
Joseph, Naive, optimistic, World-weary, jaded,
Sylvia, Sheltered, passive, Confident, strong-willed,
Naila, Rebellious, stubborn, Maternal, empathetic,

Note: These are just a few notable examples of character development in the novel, highlighting the growth and changes that occur throughout the story.

Themes Explored in “The Old Drift”

Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift” is a richly layered novel that explores several themes, including love, power, identity, and the consequences of human actions. The author weaves together the stories of multiple characters set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Zambia, at the cusp of independence.

The theme of love is explored through the relationships between the many characters in the book, such as Sylvia and Agnes’s sisterhood, Joseph and Jacob’s father-son dynamic, and Naila and Percy’s forbidden romance. Their stories illustrate the complexities and nuances of love and how it shapes individual choices and actions.

The theme of power is also a significant aspect of “The Old Drift.” The different forms of power, be it political, social, or economic, are explored through characters such as Percy M. Clark and Ronald Reagan. The author portrays the often-corrupting influence of power and how it can be wielded for personal gain rather than for the greater good.

Identity and its many facets are another theme that Serpell explores in “The Old Drift.” With characters of different races, gender identities, and cultural backgrounds, the novel demonstrates how identity shapes one’s experiences and perceptions of the world. It delves into the complexities of identity politics and how they have evolved in a post-colonial African society.

The consequences of human actions are also a recurring theme in “The Old Drift.” The novel highlights how seemingly insignificant choices and actions can have far-reaching consequences, affecting not only individuals but entire communities and nations. It serves as a cautionary tale of the importance of responsible decision-making and collective action.

The exploration of these themes and many more makes “The Old Drift” a thought-provoking and significant work of literature. Serpell’s masterful storytelling weaves together these themes to create a complex and nuanced narrative that is sure to leave a lasting impression on readers.

Audiobook Narration and Performance

As an audiobook, “The Old Drift” showcases an impressive level of narration and performance, elevating the storytelling experience to new heights. The voice acting is masterfully executed, with each character having a unique and distinct tone that enhances their personality and motivations. The pacing of the narration is also well-done, with the story unfolding at a natural and engaging pace, allowing listeners to absorb the intricate details and themes woven throughout the story.

The overall production quality of the audiobook is top-notch, with clear and crisp audio and no technical glitches or distracting noises. The sound effects and musical score are seamlessly integrated into the narration, adding depth and atmosphere to the story without overpowering the dialogue.

In particular, the audiobook format lends itself well to the speculative fiction elements present in the story, allowing for a more immersive and interactive experience that transports listeners to another world.

Listeners who enjoy audiobooks will undoubtedly appreciate the level of attention to detail and production quality present in “The Old Drift” audiobook, making it a highly recommended option for anyone looking for a captivating and immersive storytelling experience.

Listener Experience and Immersion

Experiencing “The Old Drift” as an audiobook offers a unique level of immersion for listeners, allowing them to fully engage with the intricate plot and complex characters. Through the expert narration and voice acting, listeners can vividly imagine the setting and visualize the action as it unfolds.

The use of sound effects and music in the audiobook production also adds to the immersive experience, enhancing the listener’s emotional connection to the story. From the gentle hum of insects to the roaring of waterfalls, the vivid soundscape creates an atmospheric ambiance that transports the listener into the heart of the narrative.

Overall, the listener experience and immersion of “The Old Drift” audiobook is unparalleled, providing an engaging and memorable way to experience Namwali Serpell’s masterfully crafted novel.


Critical Reception of “The Old Drift”

Since its release in 2019, Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift” has received widespread critical acclaim for its intricate storytelling and exploration of complex themes. Reviewers praise the novel’s unique blend of historical context and speculative fiction elements, which create a vivid and engrossing reading experience.

Praise for “The Old Drift”

Multiple reviewers have highlighted Serpell’s skillful writing style and use of narrative techniques to convey the story’s themes and messages. The novel’s character development also earned high praise, with critics commending the growth of the main protagonists and their motivations throughout the narrative.

As NPR’s Maureen Corrigan noted, “Serpell’s prose has that dreamy quality that magical realism is all about, but grounded in something like the human body.” Similarly, The New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz called it “…a sprawling, inventive, and highly entertaining book that raises important questions about race, class, history, and fate.”

Criticism for “The Old Drift”

While “The Old Drift” has received widespread acclaim, it has not escaped criticism entirely. Some reviewers have noted that the novel’s speculative fiction elements can be overwhelming at times or that the pacing can lag in certain sections.

However, these criticisms do not detract from the novel’s overall impact and cultural significance. As The Atlantic’s Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney writes, “Serpell’s virtuosic prose and humane message make ‘The Old Drift’ a noteworthy debut, and one that boldly announces Serpell as a talented voice in contemporary fiction.”

Impact and Influence of “The Old Drift”

Since its publication, “The Old Drift” has made a significant impact on the literary world, garnering critical acclaim and widespread recognition. Namwali Serpell’s unique blend of history and speculative fiction has captivated readers, offering a fresh perspective on African literature and the exploration of identity and power dynamics.

  • The Old Drift has won several esteemed literary awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Los Angeles Times’ Best Books of 2019.
  • The novel has been praised for its intricate character development and exploration of complex themes, including colonialism, gender, and technological advancement.
  • The Old Drift has also contributed to the growing genre of Afrofuturism, which imagines the future through an African lens and explores the intersection of technology and culture.

“The Old Drift” continues to influence and inspire readers and writers alike, offering a fresh perspective on African literature and the possibilities of speculative fiction.

Comparisons to Other Works

While “The Old Drift” stands out as a unique blend of historical fiction and speculative science fiction, it shares similarities with other notable works in similar genres. One comparison that stands out is with Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” which similarly explores the impact of historical events on individuals and communities. However, while both novels deal with difficult topics such as slavery and colonialism, “The Old Drift” offers a more fantastical and expansive exploration of history through its speculative elements compared to the more grounded approach of “Beloved.”

Another work that shares similarities with “The Old Drift” is “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Both novels tackle themes of power, freedom, and individual agency in the context of America’s troubled racial history. However, “The Old Drift” contrasts “The Water Dancer” with a more global focus, exploring the interconnectedness of individuals across borders and time periods.

Overall, “The Old Drift” distinguishes itself through its unique blend of speculative fiction and historical context, while also sharing similarities and themes with other notable literary works. Its expansive exploration of history and human experience makes it a standout novel in the genre.

Discussion of Audiobook Format

Experiencing “The Old Drift” through the audiobook format has its advantages, such as increased accessibility through the ability to listen while engaging in other activities. The audiobook format also allows for a more immersive experience, as the narration and voice acting can enhance the story’s emotional impact.

However, there are potential drawbacks to consider as well, such as the limited personal interpretation that comes with not visually consuming the text. In addition, listening to the audiobook at a faster speed to save time might affect the overall listener experience.

Ultimately, the decision to experience “The Old Drift” through the audiobook format is a matter of personal preference, and individuals who favor multitasking or prefer an immersive experience may find it to be an excellent option.

Recommendations for “The Old Drift” Audiobook

If you’re a fan of historical fiction novels that explore unique cultural perspectives and bring untold stories to light, “The Old Drift” by Namwali Serpell could be the perfect audiobook for you. The speculative fiction elements and multi-generational plotline add a fascinating layer to the historical context of Zambia, making this audiobook stand out from the rest.

For audiobook enthusiasts who enjoy immersive and engaging storytelling, “The Old Drift” is a must-listen. The audiobook boasts a high-quality production, with excellent narration and character voice acting that brings the story to life.

Recommended for:

  • Historical fiction fans interested in African history and culture
  • Speculative fiction enthusiasts who enjoy a blend of genres
  • Listeners who appreciate a multi-generational narrative with complex character development

Overall, “The Old Drift” audiobook is a well-crafted and thought-provoking work of fiction that is sure to entertain and educate listeners. If you’re looking for a new audiobook to add to your queue, “The Old Drift” comes highly recommended.


In conclusion, Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift” offers a unique and enthralling experience through the audiobook format. The novel’s blend of history and speculative fiction, combined with Serpell’s writing style and intricate character development, results in a thought-provoking and immersive story. The audiobook narration and performance contribute to the listener’s experience, enhancing the storytelling with voice acting and pacing.

Overall, audiobook enthusiasts who enjoy historical fiction with speculative elements and a focus on character development will find “The Old Drift” to be a compelling choice. The novel’s themes of love, power, identity, and the consequences of human actions provide further depth to the story and make it a worthwhile addition to any literary collection.


What is the genre of “The Old Drift”?

“The Old Drift” is a blend of historical fiction and speculative fiction.

Who is the author of “The Old Drift”?

“The Old Drift” is written by Namwali Serpell.

Can you provide a brief plot summary of “The Old Drift”?

“The Old Drift” is a multi-generational saga that follows the lives of three families in Zambia from the early 20th century to the near-future. The story explores themes of love, power, and the consequences of human actions.

What is the writing style of Namwali Serpell?

Namwali Serpell employs a rich and immersive writing style, utilizing narrative techniques to convey the complex themes and messages of the story.

Does “The Old Drift” have any historical context?

Yes, “The Old Drift” is set against the backdrop of significant historical events and social issues in Zambia, offering readers a deeper understanding of the narrative.

Are there any speculative fiction elements in “The Old Drift”?

Yes, “The Old Drift” incorporates elements of speculative fiction, including futuristic and fantastical aspects that enhance the storytelling.

How are the characters developed in “The Old Drift”?

“The Old Drift” features intricate character development, particularly for the main protagonists, as their motivations and personal journeys unfold throughout the narrative.

What are the major themes explored in “The Old Drift”?

“The Old Drift” delves into various themes such as love, power, identity, and the consequences of human actions.

How is the audiobook narration and performance for “The Old Drift”?

The audiobook narration and performance for “The Old Drift” is skillfully executed, with attention to voice acting, pacing, and overall production quality.

What is the listener experience like with “The Old Drift” audiobook?

The audiobook format enhances the listener’s experience of “The Old Drift,” providing a highly immersive and engaging way to consume the story.

What has been the critical reception of “The Old Drift”?

“The Old Drift” has received widespread acclaim from literary critics and reviewers, with praise for its unique blend of historical and speculative fiction.

How has “The Old Drift” impacted the literary world?

“The Old Drift” has made a significant impact within the literary world, earning recognition for its cultural relevance and lasting effects on the genre.

Are there any notable comparisons between “The Old Drift” and other works?

“The Old Drift” can be compared to notable literary works within the same genre or themes, showcasing similarities and differences in storytelling and themes.

What are the advantages and potential disadvantages of experiencing “The Old Drift” as an audiobook?

The audiobook format of “The Old Drift” offers advantages such as accessibility and enhanced storytelling, while potential disadvantages may include limited personal interpretation compared to reading the physical book.

Who would enjoy the audiobook version of “The Old Drift”?

Audiobook enthusiasts, fans of historical fiction and speculative fiction, and those seeking a unique and immersive storytelling experience would enjoy “The Old Drift” in its audiobook form.

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