Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Title: We Need New Names
Author: NoViolet Bulawayo
Published: 2013
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

Synopsis: Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her-from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee-while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

My Rating: red-starred-starred-starred-star

This was such a poignant hard book to read despite being narrated from the view of a 10 year old. I’ve admittedly never read a book by a Zimbabwe author – most of the black authors I read are either British, Caribbean or American so this was both refreshing and eye-opening and I relished the writing and the story that Bulawayo crafted.

The book is nearly divided into two parts, the story set in Africa which marks the foundation for our main character Darling. Zimbabwe is her, it’s all she knows and she’s a product of a crumbling country. We are exposed to the daily shenanigans of the children who no longer have a school to go to and live in a temporary village erected from tin. A displaced nation and the children who roam the streets doing what children who are bored do. They have such beautiful innocence despite knowing what they know and having seen what they have seen – it’s a lovely innocence that speaks of poverty, dreams, hunger, boredom and desperation.

The culture is etched in everything, from the mourning of a dead to the view of Christianity in these desperate poor areas of the world. I thought it was wonderful, simply wonderful.

Then Darling moves to Detroit Michigan and we see America thru the eyes of a young teen who is assimilating herself into the culture and how a part of her is still in Zimbabwe, climbing trees for guavas while another part of her is at the Mall with her friends listening to Rihanna. It spoke to me personally as a somewhat immigrant and because I was lucky enough to not know poverty and to be an American citizen I was able to appreciate what many others have to go through and how absolutely heartbreaking it is.

I think this is an important read, it’s unflinching and truthful. I wanted more in the end, I know it’s meant to be ambiguous but I yearned for more and it left me wanting more, like I needed to fill an emptiness that Darling’s story had left.

There’s a chapter titled “How they Left” and it’s only 2 pages long but it’s so poetic in nature.

“Look at them leaving in droves despite knowing they will be welcomed with restraint in those strange lands because they do not belong, knowing they will have to sit in one buttock because they must not sit comfortably lest they be asked to rise and leave, knowing they will speak in damp whispers because they must not let their voices drown those of the owners of the land, knowing they will have to walk on their toes because they must not leave footprints on the new earth lest they be mistaken for those who want to claim the land as theirs. Look at them leaving in droves, arm in arm with loss and lost, look at them leaving in droves.”

I highly encourage you to pick it up especially if you have little understand of what it means to be an immigrant in America or your own country. It’s a truly great read.


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