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.
The shortlist for the Etisalat Prize came out. Founded in 2013, this prize celebrates debut novelists of African citizenship. The winner will be announced later this month and all three books on the shortlist were written by female authors.
Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso
Set in South Africa, about a boy who stalks and steals as a way to connect with others. It is noted for, its “complex narrative written with a sensitive understanding of both the smallness and magnitude of a single life.”
Finding Soutbek by Karen Jennings
Also set in South Africa, this book tells the story of a divided town, focusing on the life of the first black mayor and his wife.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
This book has been up for a lot of prizes, including the Booker. It’s a remarkable debut and one I will write about in more detail later this month. It’s a voice driven story of a Zimbabwean girl.
It’s wonderful to see this prize and to celebrate writers from Africa. It is also a way for those of us in the US to learn more about voices we might not read about in other venues.
The next two books I review are set in Africa…Stringer, by Anjan Sundaram, is a memoir about a young man who moves to the Congo to be a journalist. And then I will write about NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.
Fall is book prize time and The Center for Fiction announced the short list for their Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize last week. A wide range of eight books made it to this list; I will write about two.
Anthony Marra’s, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, has been getting a lot of press and looks like an intriguing look at war. Set it Chechnya in 2004, it tells the story of a young girl whose father is abducted by Russian forces.
Another book on their list, which I had not heard about before, is Motherlunge by Kirstin Scott. A voice-driven novel about motherhood and family, Motherlunge won the AWP Prize for the Novel.
Meanwhile, the National Book Foundation announced their 5 under 35 honorees for 2013. All five choices were women this year, which is nice to see. All of the writers also just published (or are about to publish) debut books. Two of the authors whose novels came out in the U.S. in 2013 are: NoViolet Bulawayo’s, We Need New Names (which is also on the Booker shortlist) and Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist.
And finally, for you foodies out there, Ruth Reichl will be publishing her first novel with Random House next year.