We Need New Names

Her name is Darling and along with her friends – Bastard, Godknows, Soho, Chipo, Stina – they roam the streets of Paradise, a cluster of tin shacks erected when their real houses were razed to contract mines or whatever else foreigners say to justify ousting Africans from their homes to accommodate what they call progress. Together, these ten and eleven year old children play games to fill the eons of spare time they now have since their schools have been closed, their teachers gone to seek real employment in a place where they’ll get paid for their work. They make organized daily trips to Budapest, a neighboring community peopled by whites and rich foreigners, to steal the guavas that leave them constantly constipated but that helps to at least ease their other constant pain – hunger. Ten-year-old Chipo is pregnant but it’s not like that’s ruining her future or anything. None of them have a future they can count on. Their lives are simple and when they encounter anything beautiful, they claim it in the dreams they never expect to live to see fulfilled.

But what if they get their shot at a dream? The American dream, perhaps. How does it translate to a different language and a culture? And what becomes of the dreamer in the middle of the dream being fulfilled.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel, We Need New Names, explores the journey of the young outsider getting a chance to live in America, to occupy the land of dreams and make a new home somewhere far away from everything familiar, and the reality of the struggle of immigration, of fitting in, of the loss of culture and relationships to gain something that can never truly be had – a new identity.

This stunningly written novel was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Parts of the book were repetitive, others were fast paced. There was a chapter that made me cry, there were times I was frustrated with the main character. Overall, I am glad I read it.

Things I Liked

  • Unique perspective of an African child’s reaction to American volunteers and missionaries.
  • Emotional situations
  • The book read like a diary entry – reported speech
  • I enjoyed the writing style -the author introduced a situation, explored it, but didn’t show the resolution until during some other discussion,which added some suspense to the story.
  • The author is from Zimbabwe but the country is never named in the novel so it highlights just how universal the immigrant experience – that sometimes you call every name except your own.

Things I Didn’t Like

  • The first half of the book dragged.
  • The first person 10-year-old narration didn’t always feel authentic.
  • I didn’t like the main character, even when I understood her background and her motivations, I didn’t like that she came off as a passive follower at times.

My Rating

4 Stars (I know I’m a harsh critic but I felt like some parts of the book could’ve been improved)

Reading this book fulfills the first requirement for the Man Booker Prize challenge (click for details)

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.

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