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All Debut Fiction Coverage

Launching a first novel is an uncertain thing. Which signal the beginnings of a successful career? Which are flashes in the pan? It’s often hard to tell.

With these 25 debuts, however, there was no doubt. These authors astonished right out of the gate with strong storytelling prowess and memorable voices. Read on for our list of the best debuts from the century’s first decade: 2000-2009.


whiteteethWhite Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)

Perhaps the defining debut of the 2000s, Smith’s multicultural portrait of London life perfectly captured The Way We Live Now. While totally specific in its jump-off-the-page characters and true-to-life setting, it manages to have a universal feel as well—this could be your family. This is the sort of ambitious, accomplished debut that it’s impossible to ignore, and Smith has gone on to prove her talent with three more very different but equally accomplished novels.


 

everythingisillumEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2000)

“This best-selling novel is the work of a whiz-kid,” says our review—which about sums things up. Imaginative, quirky and humorous, the novel also tackles the Jewish diaspora and the effect of the past on the present, ideas that Foer continued to explore in his second bestseller, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

 


yearofwondersYear of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (2001)

Though she’s now one of the leading voices in historical fiction, back in 2001 Brooks was best known for her prize-winning work as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. She broke through the fiction barrier with a bang to tell this story of a small English village that goes into quarantine when the black plague is discovered within its boundaries.

 


enemywomenEnemy Women by Paulette Jiles (2002)

Prize-winning poet Jiles takes on a little-known slice of American history: the imprisonment of women during the Civil War. After being unjustly accused of spying, 18-year-old Adair is taken from her family home in the Ozarks to the St. Louis jail. With the help of a sympathetic Union soldier—who promises to find her once his duty is over—she manages to escape and embarks on a harrowing trek home. Jiles excels at depicting the horrors of a land and people ravaged by war, and her strong and spirited heroine is one readers will root for.

 


threejunesThree Junes by Julia Glass (2002)

An old-fashioned family drama, Glass’ fiction debut is told in three parts, a triptych that gives a full picture of the complicated bonds within the McLeod family—parents Paul and Maureen, their oldest son Fenno and their twin sons David and Dennis. Brilliantly rendered, full of characters who feel like people you know, this is a polished, perfect first book.

 


lovelybonesThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)

The brutal, violent death suffered by Sebold’s narrator in the opening chapter sets the tone for this bold and visceral first novel. Susie Salmon is just 14 when she goes missing on the way home from school. Though her own life is over, she continues to watch the struggles of her family from heaven as they attempt to discover what happened to their beloved little girl.

 


leavingatlantaLeaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones (2002)

Jones’ debut is a sensitively written coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of Atlanta’s African-American neighborhoods in 1979, where black children were being murdered by an infamous serial killer. This historical drama serves to deepen Jones’ careful exploration of the dangers of growing up—and especially, the dangers of growing up black.

 


 

namesakeThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

In her first novel, Lahiri continued to showcase the elegant, deceptively simple writing that marked her Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection, expanding her scope to tell the story of Gogol Ganguli, the American-born son of Ashoke Ganguli, who arrives in Massachusetts from India in the late 1960s as an engineering student, and Ashima, Ashoke’s wife through an arranged marriage.

 


kiterunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)

Hosseini was a practicing physician in California when he wrote The Kite Runner, a surprise hit that illuminated Afghanistan’s tortured history through the powerful story of two boys. The novel sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S., and Hosseini has since published two other bestsellers.

 

 


knownworldbhc

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)

This “staggeringly accomplished” first novel takes as its premise a surprising piece of history: Some free blacks did, in fact, own slaves themselves. Jones takes a clear-eyed look at this morally complicated time through his complex characters, including Henry Townsend, whose own parents worked for years to buy his freedom only to see him enslave others, and Jim Skiffington, a local sheriff who is personally against slavery but must uphold the laws of 1850s Virginia.

 


curiousincidentThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

Christopher Boone is 15, and something of an autistic savant. Yet his ability to name every prime number doesn’t help him parse the emotional turmoil of his home life. When he embarks on a mission to find out who stabbed his neighbor’s dog with a gardening fork, Christopher—who narrates the story in an inimitable voice—ends up stumbling on a much greater mystery.

 


jonathanstrangeJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

Who would have thought that an 800-page book starring two magicians could become a major bestseller? Though Clarke’s epic, Dickensian tale set in an alternate 1806 England might have come in on Harry Potter’s coattails, it had a style all its own. As magicians Strange and Norrell—the first in possession of abundant natural, effortless but undirected talent, and the second something of a scholarly pedant—attempt to bring magic back to England, Clarke brings magic back to the world of literary fiction. Fans of The Night Circus and The Golem and the Jinni—you’re welcome.

 


shadowofthewindThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2004)

We readers love our books about books, and Ruiz Zafon’s first adult novel—also a bestseller in his native Spain—is one of the best ever written. A twisty, Gothic tale that contains a story-within-a-story, it features a mythical “Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” a reclusive author and a Barcelona that is still reeling from the Spanish Civil War. Part noir, part coming-of-age story and part mystery, this is 100% page-turner.

 


 

godsinalabamagods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (2005)

The somewhat staid world of Southern fiction got a jump-start when Jackson appeared on the scene. Though it targets themes of redemption, family bonds and the weight of the past, Jackson’s writing deals honestly with the South’s complicated past, possesses nary a jot of nostalgia and is anything but treacly. Her debut showcases all of the above and adds a saucy, strong heroine to boot.

 


preppbPrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005)

Novels set in prep school are a dime a dozen, which makes the fact that Prep stood out from the crowd an even more impressive feat. As middle-class, Midwestern girl Lee learns to swim among the sharks at her upscale boarding school, Sittenfeld perfectly captures all the pain and drama of growing up, making for a solid, perceptive debut.

 


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield coverThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)

Starring a bookish young heroine who gets drawn into a Gothic mystery involving a reclusive female writer, this dark horse debut took bestseller lists by storm upon publication and has been a perennial hit with book clubs ever since. Setterfield, who taught French before becoming a published writer, took her time coming out with a follow up, releasing her second novel nearly 8 years later.

 


specialtopicsSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (2006)

Voice is a big part of what marks a debut as special, and the hyper-literate, exuberant, creative voice of Marisha Pessl was one that readers could love or love to hate—but not ignore. This ambitious coming-of-age novel is also a suspenseful mystery, a story of adolescence and a touching portrayal of the father/daughter relationship. Pessl’s long-awaited second novel, Night Film, was released in 2013.

 


thenwecameThen We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (2007)

Narrating a novel in the second-person plural is a risky choice—especially when it’s also your first book. But Ferris pulls it off with aplomb in Then We Came to the End, a high-wire act of a novel that takes a collection of office archetypes—the go-getters, the slackers, the petty tyrants—and brings them vividly to life. Written in just 14 weeks, this vibrant and lively story marked Ferris as a true writer to watch.

 


lostcityradioLost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón (2007)

The turbulent political history of South America is not often plumbed for fiction, but Alarcón does this complicated subject justice—and tells a moving tale besides—in his lyrical debut, set in an unnamed South American country. “This book is about telling the stories that people didn’t want to hear before, that were inconvenient to hear,” he told us in an interview. Alarcón’s second novel, At Night, was published in 2013.

 


briefwondrous4The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007)

Díaz’s first novel, which had been anticipated for nearly a decade, stars an overweight nerd who couldn’t be more different from Yunior, the womanizing antihero introduced in Díaz’s celebrated story collection, Drown. Yet the two share a talent for falling in love, and as Díaz recounts Oscar’s journey in that inimitable voice, readers fall in love as well.

 


intthewoodsIn the Woods by Tana French (2007)

Occupying the narrow territory between suspense and literary fiction, French’s debut is a psychologically acute, harrowing police procedural. As Dublin detective Rob Ryan and his partner and best friend Cassie Maddox investigate a 12-year-old girl’s murder, Rob finds that the case stirs up a childhood trauma he can no longer ignore.

 


monsterstempletonThe Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (2008)

Quirky and bold, Lauren Groff’s debut is both the story of an individual—Willie Upton, who has been told that her father isn’t the person she thought he was—and a town: Templeton, in upstate New York. As Willie pores over Templeton history in order to discover who her father is, readers are treated to the colorful histories of its varied residents. Told in several voices, including that of the area lake monster, this is a lively and compelling first novel.

 


girlwiththedragonThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008)

One of the signs of a successful novel is its ability to spawn imitators—and we’re still feeling the impact of Stieg Larsson’s hard-boiled Swedish thriller starring a heroine who, to put it mildly, doesn’t take crap from anyone. Sadly, Larsson died before seeing his novels published, but his legacy lives on in the flood of Scandinavian thrillers and kick-ass heroines that swamp bookshelves worldwide.

 


cuttingforstonehcCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

Like Khaled Hosseini, Verghese trained as a doctor before turning to fiction, and his first novel stars twin siblings who both practice medicine. Marion becomes an excellent if unheralded surgeon, but Shiva, with no formal medical training, becomes a pioneer in fistula repair, a skill desperately needed in Ethiopia. As this epic tale unwinds across continents, the conflicts between the two very different brothers are juxtaposed with the larger crises in the outside world.

 


americanrustAmerican Rust by Philipp Meyer (2009)

Set in Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Rust Belt, this literary debut portrays a disappearing small-town, blue-collar America with clear-eyed perception. Best friends Isaac and Poe had planned to escape their dying hometown of Buell for college. But when these dreams are crushed, both must try to salvage their futures. Meyer, whose second novel, The Son, was published in 2013, writes with authority, and his work has been compared to American greats like McCarthy and Faulkner.

Launching a first novel is an uncertain thing. Which signal the beginnings of a successful career? Which are flashes in the pan? It’s often hard to tell. With these 25 debuts, however, there was no doubt. These authors astonished right out of the gate with strong storytelling prowess and memorable voices. Read on for our […]

In recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in stellar novels of the immigrant experience—from Behold the Dreamers to Americanah, from The Book of Unknown Americans to The Buddha in the Attic—and 2017 continues that trend, with an even greater emphasis on refugees’ tales. It seems every month so far this year has offered a handful of stories that give a voice to the displaced, the fishes out of water, the strangers in strange lands. These are 12 of our favorites.


Lucky BoyLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Fans of The Light Between Oceans will enjoy the moral dilemmas and tremendous heart of Sekaran’s second novel, the story of one boy tangled up in two families. When Soli, an illegal Mexican immigrant, is put in immigration detention, her 1-year-old son, Ignacio, enters the foster care system. He is placed with Kavya and Rishi Reddy, successful Indian-American immigrants. But as much as they may love him, Ignacio is not their son. Read our review.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Already one of the best books of the year, this multigenerational epic from Lee (Free Food for Millionaires) is a powerful account of one of the world’s most persecuted immigrant communities—Koreans living in Japan. This heartbreaking historical novel spans the entire 20th century through four generations and three wars, as a Korean family struggles to find a sense of belonging in a culture that regards them as aliens. Read our interview with Lee.


American StreetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi

Don’t mind the YA label: Adult readers should read Zoboi’s debut as well as teens. Fabiola Toussaint, an American citizen by birth, is separated from her Haitian mother while going through Customs, and so she must travel by herself to Detroit, where her American cousins introduce her to a very new world. It’s an unforgettable story of what happens when cultures, nationalities, races and religions collide. Read our interview with Zoboi.


Waking LionsWaking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

The chilling and provocative debut from Israeli author Gundar-Goshen opens with a hit-and-run, when Israeli neurosurgeon Eitan Green accidentally kills an illegal Eritrean immigrant. The victim’s wife, the enigmatic Sirkit, blackmails Eitan into treating sick Eritreans in the desert. With ruminations on pain and medicine woven throughout, this is a superb exploration of how we see—or fail to see—each other. Read our review.


Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid adds a dash of gentle magic to his tale of refugees and matters of the heart. In a Middle Eastern country on the brink of civil war, Nadia and Saeed fall in love. But soon they must flee their ruined homeland, passing through a doorway that acts as a portal to another city. As they journey around the world, the bonds of love are both forged and tested by displacement and survival. A must-read for 2017. Read our review.


The LeaversThe Leavers by Lisa Ko

Ko’s timely, assured debut received major critical acclaim before it was even published, as Barbara Kingsolver awarded it the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction (given to a novel that addresses issues of social justice). It’s the coming-of-age tale of 11-year-old Deming, who is adopted by a pair of white professors after his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, doesn’t return from work one day. Read our review.


No One Can Pronounce My NameNo One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

That wry title is only a glimmer of the wonderful sense of humor that permeates the second novel from Satyal. The lives of three Indian Americans living in Ohio unfold with compassionate comedy and a nuanced look at sexuality and gender identity. It’s hard to categorize a book that tackles so many things so well, and the result can only be described as the new American novel. Read our review, and don’t miss our Q&A with Satyal.


Salt HousesSalt Houses by Hala Alyan

Alyan’s debut is a sweeping family tale told through multiple perspectives, and it all begins with the Six-Day War in 1967, when the Yacoub family is uprooted and forced to scatter across the globe. Alyan’s own parents met in Kuwait City and, after Saddam Hussein’s invasion, were forced to seek refuge in the United States. This spectacular novel, touching on questions of home and heritage, was our May Top Pick in Fiction. Read our review.


Live from CairoLive from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte

Bassingthwaighte tapped his own experiences as a legal aid worker to craft his debut, set in 2011 Cairo. Four characters are at the heart of this remarkable novel: an Iraqi refugee who is denied her request to join her husband in the U.S.; the Iraqi volunteer assigned to her case; a lawyer for the Refugee Relief Project; and his translator. There is so much to like about this book, from brilliant characterization to exceptional writing. Coming July 11.


RefugeRefuge by Dina Nayeri

Nayeri moved to America when she was 10 years old, and the protagonist of her second novel makes a similar move, except she leaves her father behind. Over the course of 20 years, the daughter and father build a relationship through four visits, each in a different city. The more their lives diverge, the more they come to rely on each other—especially when the daughter becomes involved in the present-day refugee crisis. Coming July 11.


What We LoseWhat We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Perfect for fans of Americanah, the much-anticipated debut from Clemmons unfolds through poignant vignettes and centers on the daughter of an immigrant. Raised in Philadelphia, Thandi is the daughter of a South African mother and an American father. Her identity is split, and when her mother dies, Thandi begins a moving, multidimensional exploration of grief and loss. Coming July 11.


Home FireHome Fire by Kamila Shamsie

From acclaimed novelist Shamsie comes the story of two Muslim sisters: Isma, who has just left London to attend grad school in America; and the headstrong, politically inclined Aneeka, who stayed behind. Their brother, Parvaiz, is seeking his own dream in the shadow of his jihadist father. And then the son of a powerful political figure enters the girls’ lives, setting in motion a tale of complicated loyalty. Coming August 15.


Plus one more: It’s not a novel, but we have to mention Viet Thanh Nguyen’s exceptional collection of short stories, The Refugees. The nine stories, set within California’s Vietnamese community or in Vietnam, are dedicated to “all refugees, everywhere.”

In recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in stellar novels of the immigrant experience—from Behold the Dreamers to Americanah, from The Book of Unknown Americans to The Buddha in the Attic—and 2017 continues that trend, with an even greater emphasis on refugees’ tales. It seems every month so far this year has offered a handful of stories that give a voice […]

Four dazzling works of historical fiction, all set outside of Europe and America, are perfect for book clubs.

When Benito Mussolini invades Ethiopia at the beginning of Maaza Mengiste’s powerful novel, The Shadow King, a young maid named Hirut wants to fight alongside the men, but she’s not allowed. Joining with other women, including the wife of her employer, Hirut eventually comes into her own as a resistance fighter, and her coming of age and developing political consciousness provide a captivating arc for readers to follow. Mengiste’s fierce novel is a study of loyalty and identity in the years leading up to World War II.

Set in the 19th century, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black tells the story of Wash, an 11-year-old boy who is enslaved in Barbados and selected to be the manservant of Christopher Wilde, the brother of his enslaver. Christopher takes Wash under his wing, using him as an assistant in his experimental launch of a hot air balloon. When the two are forced to leave Barbados, new possibilities open up for Wash. Complicated examinations of colonization, slavery and power dynamics add richness to Edugyan’s tense, gripping tale of adventure. Expect a rousing good read with somber undertones as Wash struggles to find his place in the world.

In Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, a young Korean woman named Sunja has an affair with a rich man who turns out to be married. When Sunja discovers she’s pregnant, she marries a good-natured minister and they move to Japan. Lee spins a hypnotic saga that opens in the early 1900s and unfolds over several decades, first following Sunja’s and her husband’s experiences as immigrants, then the stories of subsequent generations of their family. Book clubs will find plenty to discuss in Lee’s sweeping novel, including gender roles and the pressures of family.

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell begins in 1904 Northern Rhodesia (what is now the nation of Zambia) and spans a century. When British photographer Percy Clark makes his home in a colonial settlement known as the Old Drift, his adventures lead to unforeseen involvement with three Zambian families. Serpell draws upon elements of magical realism and Zambian history and mythology to create a singularly innovative and slyly funny narrative that unfurls the history of an evolving nation.

Four dazzling works of historical fiction, all set outside of Europe and America, are perfect for book clubs. When Benito Mussolini invades Ethiopia at the beginning of Maaza Mengiste’s powerful novel, The Shadow King, a young maid named Hirut wants to fight alongside the men, but she’s not allowed. Joining with other women, including the […]

Reading groups who fell for Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere—now a series on Hulu—will savor these smart, sophisticated and brisk domestic dramas.

Anna Benz, the protagonist of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau, leads an affluent life in Switzerland with her family. But when an increasing sense of emptiness—and a distant husband—lead her into a string of secret sexual assignations, she becomes caught up in a web of lies. This bold debut from Essbaum succeeds thanks to its nuanced portrayal of Anna. How much do gender stereotypes play into our responses to a character like Anna? Prepare for a lively debate.

In Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane shrewdly dissects the tensions and connections between two families. Both new to the NYPD in 1973, Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson are next-door neighbors grappling with work and personal issues. Lena, Francis’ wife, feels isolated, while Brian’s wife, Anne, is becoming increasingly volatile. The entwining of their lives over decades results in emotional devastation for everyone involved. Expect serious discussion of topics like mental illness and addiction, stemming from Keane’s portrayal of the ways families can be torn apart. Yet there’s hope in this dark drama, as Keane’s characters reckon with the past and find redemption and grace. 

Suburban life is anything but dull in Joshilyn Jackson’s Never Have I Ever, another new paperback release. Contented wife and mother Amy Whey’s peaceful existence is turned upside down during a book club meeting where she meets the captivating Angelica Roux. Angelica knows about a terrible incident from Amy’s past, and when she threatens blackmail, Amy must outmaneuver her. Readers can unpack themes of female friendship, morality and loyalty while delighting in the intricate, twisty plot and the novel’s singular momentum. Taut and enthralling, Jackson’s novel will inspire rousing conversation—while also providing an effortless read. 

Any Big Little Lies superfans in your group? Pick up another winner from Liane Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret, which shares the same blend of propulsive writing and penetrating social commentary. Cecilia Fitzpatrick finds a letter from her husband that she’s not supposed to open until after his death. She reads it—naturally—only to learn that he harbors a shocking secret with repercussions that go well beyond their family. It’s the worst (best?) possible permutation of the “How well do you know your spouse?” plot, and readers of this provocative novel can look forward to fascinating discussion when their group convenes. 

Reading groups who fell for Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere—now a series on Hulu—will savor these smart, sophisticated and brisk domestic dramas.

Set in the American South one generation after the Civil War, The Magnetic Girl is a mystical story about one girl’s journey from a gawky, small-town farmer’s daughter to a well-known, alluring performer.

Lulu Hurst sneaks into her father’s study one evening and finds a book that changes the course of her life. Mrs. Wolf’s The Truth of Mesmeric Influence becomes Lulu’s bible as she learns to hone her natural skills of “captivating” people around her, essentially holding them in a trance. But Lulu keeps more secrets than just her captivating skills; she dropped her brother on his head when he was an infant, and from then on, his development stagnated. Lulu never told her parents about the accident. Her guilt weighs her down, though she believes one day her magnetism can heal her brother.

As she reads and memorizes Mrs. Wolf’s book, Lulu feels as if the author is speaking directly to her. When Lulu’s father confronts her about the missing book, he surprises her by letting her keep it. He then trains his talented daughter to perform “tests” that, through the laws of physics, allow Lulu to appear as if she possesses unparalleled, unnatural strength. She perfects the tests, and her family hosts her first show in the parlor of their home.

Quickly Lulu becomes a sensation and takes her act on the road. As the Magnetic Girl, Lula learns to embrace her physical and mental strength, and she gains confidence as she sees different parts of the world and earns more and more money for her family. When an aging mesmerist calls on her for a visit, Lulu questions her “powers” and wonder about the illusive author of her beloved book.

Author Jessica Handler paints a quaint picture of life in the late 19th century, when electricity was a new phenomenon. Lulu begins as a young woman used to obeying her parents, but through her performances, she begins to see her parents and their shortcomings more clearly. The Magnetic Girl is hypnotic tale about a girl growing into a woman and discovering the truth of her own powers.

Set in the American South one generation after the Civil War, The Magnetic Girl is a mystical story about one girl’s journey from a gawky, small-town farmer’s daughter to a well-known, alluring performer.

Early in Namwali Serpell’s brilliant and many-layered debut novel, a turn-of-the-century British colonialist named Percy Clark wanders through the corner of what was then called Northwest Rhodesia (and is now the nation of Zambia) and complains: “I do seem plagued by the unpunishable crimes of others.” It is, in a sense, a fitting slogan for the many ruinous aftereffects of colonialism, except here it is spoken by an agent and beneficiary of the colonizer.

So begins The Old Drift, an expansive yet intricate novel that bends, inverts and at times ignores conventions of time and place. Part historical fiction, part futurism, part fantasy, Serpell’s hundred-year saga of three families and their intertwined fortunes is as unique as it is ambitious. And in just about every way, it succeeds.

The story begins in 1904, when an unlikely incident (Percy accidentally rips a patch of hair off another man’s head) sets off a chain of events that reverberates through the decades. From there, Serpell introduces a cast of characters that ranges from the everyday to the fantastical. The book chronicles the interwoven lives of three families, cast against the creation of Zambia itself.

There is a timeless quality to Serpell’s storytelling—or perhaps a sense that her novel moves almost independent of time. What starts as a story steeped in real colonial history eventually moves into the present and beyond—an invented near-future. In clumsier hands this complex, sprawling, century-spanning book might have easily folded in on itself, a victim of its scale and scope. Instead, The Old Drift holds together, its many strands diverging and converging in strange but undeniable rhythm.

It’s difficult not to pigeonhole the novel into a particular literary school—namely, that of the descendants of Gabriel García Márquez and the magical realists. Less than 100 pages into the story, for example, the reader meets a girl covered head to toe in hair. Another character cries endless tears. There are, throughout the book, myriad moments in which Serpell utilizes the improbable, the impossible, the unreal, to get at something profoundly human. And for all the ways it subverts and reinvents convention, The Old Drift is a very human book, deeply concerned with that most virulent strain of history: the unpunishable crimes of others.

Part historical fiction, part futurism, part fantasy, Namwali Serpell’s hundred-year saga of three families and their intertwined fortunes is as unique as it is ambitious. And in just about every way, it succeeds.

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