We Need New Names

weneednewWe Need New Names
by NoViolet Bulawayo
2013/ 294 pages (Kindle)
rating 9 / contemp fiction (Zimbabwe)

This is another coming of age book about young adults and immigration.  This time the tragedies of African life and the difficulties of emotional adjustment in the US are well explored.   I can’t say I appreciated this one as much as I did the very similar (in ways)  Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie which was in my top 10 last year and there have been other hugely successful immigrant novels lately – Juno Diaz, Ali Smith, Anita Desai, Zadie Smith, and many more.

68. Noviolet Bulawayo - We Need New Names

NoViolet Bulawayo

I suppose immigrant stories are always difficult in a way because it’s a hard situation to be in,  but this one is in-your-face emotionally sad.   As I read the first half I got very impatient with the author’s simply showing us Darling, our first-person narrator and her friends Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Stina running wild (free?) and eking out an existence in the rubble left of Paradise, a slum created by Mugabe’s projects.  They steal guavas for food and silently watch the adults dying while trying to live.  Life is bad in Zimbabwe to be sure.

And then Darling finds herself in “DestroyedMichigan”  (Detroit) and transferred to Kalamazoo.  Here she seems to be running wild again only this time it’s an emotional run,  the same friends and family aren’t there for emotional support,  the direct violence is replaced by a really sickening internet variety and the hunger is of a different kind – a really cold kind of hunger – cold like the snow.   There’s lots of food – there’s anorexia – there’s obesity.  The hunger is not about food.

I personally would have liked a more linear plot but then I suppose the character of Darling with her needs and conflicts would have been less finely developed.   The writing is very nicely done.  Actually,  the language itself is almost a theme as Darling goes from very nice English with a lot of slang in Zimbabwe to text-speak in Kalamazoo.  Bulawayo is very talented writer and this is a debut novel.

When things fall apart, the children of the land scurry and scatter like birds escaping a burning sky. They flee their own wretched land so their hunger may be pacified in foreign lands, their tears wiped away in strange lands, the wounds of their despair bandaged in faraway lands, their blistered prayers muttered in the darkness of queer lands.  (pp. 147-148)

I suppose it’s the theme of pervasive hunger,  physical, emotional and spiritual,  that is the final impression this book leaves.

In America we saw more food than we had seen in all our lives and we were so happy we rummaged through the dustbins of our souls to retrieve the stained, broken pieces of God. (p. 240).

4 Responses to We Need New Names

  1. DebraB says:

    I have this book on my shelf and have been meaning to read it for a while. It’s interesting that there is anorexia in the book. I just did a blog post on another African novel in which a character has anorexia (Tsitsi Dangaremba’s “Nervous Conditions.”)


    • I enjoyed We Need New Names quite a lot. Another book with anorexia in it is Feasting, Fasting by Anita Desai – that was an incredible book! I’ll have to go take a look at your blood post – I’m following you now – loved the look, feel, and joined the challenge.


  2. My comment should have said “blog” post – not blood post. Sheesh – 🙂


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