Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.


Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

Darling and her friends live in a shanty called Paradise, which of course is no such thing. It isn’t all bad, though. There’s mischief and adventure, games of Find bin Laden, stealing guavas, singing Lady Gaga at the tops of their voices.

They dream of the paradises of America, Dubai, Europe, where Madonna and Barack Obama and David Beckham live. For Darling, that dream will come true. But, like the thousands of people all over the world trying to forge new lives far from home, Darling finds this new paradise brings its own set of challenges – for her and also for those she’s left behind.

Book Details

Literary awards: Booker Prize Nominee (2013)Guardian First Book Award Nominee (2013)Internationaler Literaturpreis – Haus der Kulturen der Welt Nominee (2015)Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Nominee for Fiction (2014)Betty Trask Award (2014)PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel (2014).

Original title: We Need New Names.

Setting: Tsholotsho (Zimbabwe), Detroit, Michigan (United States), Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe.

Format: 290 pages, Paperback.

Published: June 3, 2013 by Chatto & Windus.

ISBN: 9780701188047.

Language: English.

My Review of We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

This is a story of ten year old Zimbabwean girl, Darling, who has to navigate life in a world she hardly understands.

The first scene shows her and her friends, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Stina and Sbho, hitting Budapest to steal guavas. I love the narrative technique employed by the author, it makes you connect with the child more.

We read this book through the voice of ten year old Darling, and if you have forgotten, it reminds you how it feels like to be a ten year old.

How a ten year old grasps the world around them, and most especially, how a ten year old living in Zimbabwe, who has been denied going to school because they are all shut down, speaks English.

Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

The book is set during the time Mugabe’s paramilitary demolished houses and closed schools, making the people homeless, and some of them, living in shanty houses.

Darling and her weird-named friends live in a shanty town ironically called ‘Paradise.’

Even without explicitly mentioning it, you can see how horrible life is for Darling and her friends that they go to steal guavas, which they eat as food, and not fruit.

Eleven year old Chipo is pregnant, and again, you can see how innocent the children’s minds are, because our girl Darling, does not fully understand what it means to be pregnant, and Chipo does not help them out with this knowledge.

Since she becomes pregnant, she never speaks to her friends, so they assume the pregnancy has made her mute or something.

Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

But looking at it this way, it might denote the helplessness and trauma of the abuse. She doesn’t speak not because she doesn’t want to, but because she has lost her voice and is scared of what the abuser might do to her, when they find out she has spoken, especially when this abuser in question is her grandfather.

There is also the backdrop of religion being one of the greatest institutions in Africa.

In every African country, religion is mostly the solace of the people when they are suffering too much, and don’t know where else to take refuge. So most of the time, religious leaders take advantage of these people’s vulnerability and fear.

Darling’s mother is a deeply religious woman. When her husband leaves her and her daughter to South Africa, she resorts to prayer.

And when Darling bugs her about the whereabouts of her father, she doesn’t respond. It’s always prayer and more prayer for her.

So Darling would have to grow up with the pang of having an absent father, and also endure the jeers from her peers.

But when her father returns, sick and dying, her mother still bounces back to the church to pray for the restoration of his soul.

Darling’s life is filled with too many uncertainties, too many unanswered questions, and too much suffering, and there is only so much a young girl can bear.

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The second section of this book is dedicated to the exodus of the Zimbabwean people.

In a bid to search for greener pastures, they leave in droves to foreign countries, and Darling leaves too, to Michigan, Detroit in USA, with her aunty where a new life awaits her.

In this part, we will learn how life is for an African immigrant into the western countries.

If you have read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, you would have an idea of what it means to live in America as an African immigrant. Life is hell or something close to hell for these people.

As Darling grows up, her life and language change, and we experience these changes with her.

Her manner of speaking changes, her ideologies, and mindset change too. A lot of things do not sit right with her, and so she has a hard time settling to her life in America.

Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

She does not understand why she has to twist her mouth in a certain kind of way to speak, before people comprehend her words.

And why should she be the one who should change the way she speaks? She would challenge a young American girl in her school whom she says does not even speak good English, but slangs like ‘wanna,’ ‘gonna.’ And she’s the one being jeered at for speaking weird English.

She tells the girl that she speaks the real, correct Queen’s English, and not the abridged form Americans speak. So how dare she question her English?

Apart from the racism African immigrants face, and the struggle to eke out a life amidst the mind-blowing taxes and harsh weather conditions, they face a lot of pressure from home.

The people they live behind have the illusion that manna falls in the overseas, or that money grows on trees, so once you move other there, you must be sending them lots of money and other goodies.

Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

And if you fail to oblige, then you are a heartless soul who has forgotten all they did for you back when you had nothing in your country home.

This pressure would almost defeat Darling, because she doesn’t know what to tell her friends when they request for money. She doesn’t know how to let them know she’s barely even living, and is utterly depressed.

The pressure faced by African immigrants is so fierce and terrible, that they prefer not to come home for any reason, so they can at least catch their breaths.

I love that this book gives you a real life experience on what it feels like to live a life of lack and want, and how a child navigates this life of lack and want.

You also see what it feels like to leave the comfort of your home country to be an immigrant in a foreign one.

Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

And how you are easily shoved into the world of in-between-ness. You are neither here nor there.

The people of the foreign countries do not even regard you as human, and back home too, your people despise you for neglecting them, and treat you like an outcast. So you don’t truly belong anywhere, because no one understands you.

I love that the author uses humour to pass across strong messages. I love that we experience real life changes and development of the characters, especially Darling, whom we read this story from her eyes.

I love her choice of language, and the unique choice of names given to the characters. It’s a beautiful book, and I do recommend it. I will rate it as 4.5/5.

Have you read the book? What do you think about it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.

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We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.”

  1. “I love that the author uses humour to pass across strong messages.“ 👌

    Thanks for writing such a comprehensive and apt review.

    I enjoyed reading this. It wasn’t the most gripping at the start, but not too boring to put down; it was easy to see the author was taking us on a journey and to trust her enough to stay with her. Halfway through, it picks up momentum with the author holding back nothing, putting words to emotions and experiences we feel but can’t quite describe. Just when she has you fully drawn in, she draws shut the curtain on the story, like a carpet pulled off your feet. Then only do you realize the deed is done, and she has spun a riveting, original and unforgettable story. It’s a story that makes you think and stays with you.


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