a Sweeping Debut About the Roots of Modern Zambia

Salman Rushdie in The New York Times:

Something is happening in African literature: The women are coming. For decades now, a river of original and important writing by female authors has been flowing out of that continent — books by writers such as Marlene van Niekerk, of whose second novel Liesl Schillinger wrote in these pages, “books like ‘Agaat’ … are the reason people read novels”; Tsitsi Dangarembga (“Nervous Conditions”); and, of course, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Now that river has burst its banks and become a flood. Namwali Serpell’s extraordinary, ambitious, evocative first novel, “The Old Drift,” contributes powerfully to this new wave.

Interestingly, many of the contemporary books overlap with and even echo one another. Petina Gappah’s forthcoming novel, “Out of Darkness, Shining Light,” takes on the subject of the explorer David Livingstone and his African companions; “The Old Drift” also begins with Livingstone (but then moves on). Serpell’s novel is a multigenerational exploration of Zambia’s past, present and even its near future; another recent debut, “Harmattan Rain,” by Ayesha Harruna Attah, looks at the story of Ghana through the lives of three generations of women. And in September Maaza Mengiste’s “The Shadow King” will take on the subject of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, moving beyond history to a kind of modern mythmaking, and looking at history primarily through the eyes of its female characters. “The Old Drift,” too, incorporates elements of fabulism into the history of Zambia, and, again, sees that history mostly through women’s eyes. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s “House of Stone,” published in the United States in January, has already been highly praised in The Guardian for summing up “not only … Zimbabwean history, but also all of African colonial history” — a large claim on behalf of any novel. Equally large claims have already been made for “The Old Drift,” which early reviewers have garlanded with comparisons to Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez. Meanwhile, another recent novel, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s “Kintu,” has been called a Ugandan “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Trailing clouds of glory do they come.

More here.