We Need New Names
By NoViolet Bulawayo
Reagan Arthur Books, Little Brown, 2013
NoViolet Bulawayo won the Etisalat Prize for We Need New Names last month. I was deeply moved by this coming-of-age story about a young African girl who physically leaves her homeland, but who never leaves her memories and fondness for her culture behind.
Darling is 10 and is growing up in Zimbabwe. Her parents have all fallen on hard times, so they live in a poor section of town. For fun she and her friends go to “Budapest” where the wealthy people live to steal guavas from trees. They eat so many guavas they make themselves sick. They accept handouts from the “white NGO people” and spend life playing games in the streets as their parents struggle to make ends met. As life in the city deteriorates, people begin to leave the country, and Darling is sent to Michigan to live with an aunt, where the view from her window is very different.
Each chapter in this book is almost a story in itself. In the middle of the book is a two-page chapter called, “How They Left,” which recounts the reasons why people fled Zimbabwe and marks the end Darling’s life in Africa. It is a powerful chapter and Bulawayo has an incredibly strong narrative voice which reminds me of Junot Diaz and Tim O’Brien. I found myself more drawn to the first half of the book, as I enjoyed seeing her view of the world in/from Africa, but she tells a unique and contemporary immigrant story, which is grounded in the era of Obama, the Occupy Movement and Internet porn. This book has been much written about and it deserves the praise it has received.
Bulawayo has an MFA in writing from Cornell University and is currently at Stanford University on a Stegner Fellowship. I look forward to reading her next book.
I was given this book by a friend.