WE NEED NEW NAMES should definitely be on your reading list. It is a real and refreshing gem in African literature. Not only is it a page turner, it is also a novel that will haunt you long after you have finished it.
The main characters (Darling, Bastard, Godknows, Chipo, Sbho and Stina) will remain engraved on your mind. You will feel like you have always known them, even if they are just fictional characters, the product of a young and very talented author whose pen name will intrigue you as well.
Meet No Violet Bulawayo and the 7 reasons why you should read her debut novel entitled WE NEED NEW NAMES.
What is the book about?
WE NEED NEW NAMES is a story that is narrated by Darling, an 11-year-old Zimbabwean girl who first lives in Paradise, an ironical appelation for an impoverished shanty town where hunger rules and fathers are absent, whether physically or mentally. The children are left to their own devices so they spend hours hunting for food to calm their growling bellies in a richer neighbourhood called Budapest where they can steal guavas. They do not go to school so they spend their days playing games that they create themselves while their lives are continuously endangered by people or the environment that surrounds them.
In the end, Darling leaves Zimbabwe for the USA where she joins her Aunt Fostalina, her mother’s sister. She has a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings but slowly learns to leave her past behind in order to fit in.
Short transcript: 7 reasons why you should read WE NEED NEW NAMES by No Violet Bulawayo
It will not leave you indifferent
You will get to experience different types of emotions: rage, relief, surprise, grief, anger, and happiness.
The issues that are tackled range from religion, immigration, emigration and aid.
You will be amazed by the author’s ability to portray characters, places, experiences and situations.
“Mother of Bones’s face is the colour of the shacks, a dirty brown, like it was made to match. There are deep lines on it ; when I was little I thought somebody had taken a broken mirror and carved and carved and carved. A scarf is tied around her head, and bright beads coil like snakes around her neck: purple beads, orange beads, pink beads, blue beads, their colours screaming against the quiet brown of the skin.”
You are going to fall in love with the language.
“She’s not mute-mute; it’s just that when her stomach started growing, she stopped talking.”
~Darling describing Chipo, who is pregnant at 11.
“And if I’m lucky, like today, I get to be the U.S.A., which is a country-country; who doesn’t know that the U.S.A is the big baboon of the world?”
You will understand the theme of “immigration” more.
“And the jobs we worked, Jesus-Jesus-Jesus, the jobs we worked. Low-paying jobs. Backbreaking jobs. Jobs that gnawed at the bones of our dignity, devoured the meat, tongued the marrow. We took scalding irons and ironed our pride flat. We cleaned toilets. We picked tobacco and fruit under the boiling sun until we hung our tongues and panted like lost hounds. We butchered animals, slit throats, drained blood.”
You will see how other people struggle when learning a new language.
“Angel, angel, angel, Aunt Fostalina says, raising her voice even louder. There is silence, like maybe the girl is getting ready to pray.
Ah-ngeh-l, Aunt Fostalina adds helpfully, dragging out the word like she is raking gravel. I silently mouth-enjel. Enjel. I hear the girl make a small sigh.
I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean , ma’am, she says finally.”
You will never look at AID and DONATIONS in the same way again.
“The truth is that we hear them all the time complain how the NGO people have forgotten them, how they should visit more often, how NGO this, NGO that, like maybe the NGO people are their parents.”
WE NEED NEW NAMES is a human story.
“We all lean forward and watch the thin lips move, the mouth struggling to mumble something and giving up because the words are stunning themselves on the carpet of sores around the inner lips, the tongue so swollen it fills the mouth. We watch him stop struggling to speak and I think about how it would feel to not be able to do a simple thing like open my mouth and speak, the voice drowning inside me. It’s a terrifying feeling.”
~Darling, the narrator, when her father is dying of Aids.
Despite all the despair that can be encountered in the book, as a reader, it is easy to find moments that are laughable and fascinating. This is a rich book full of insight, almost on each and every page. It is a story that highlights our ability to adapt to different types of situations, however hard they can be, while still retaining our humanity. It is a story that remains enjoyable despite the hardships that the characters endure. It is a story about life and what it means to be on the duller side of the fence whilst retaining our inalienable rights to dignity.
- Full interview with The Monthly.
- Interesting interview in which No Violet talks about names, the use of language and writing when she is far from home.
- The author’s official website.
- No Violet talks about the origin of WE NEED NEW NAMES and you can also read a short extract from the book.
- A review of the book by the Guardian.
Bulawayo’s novel is not just a stunning piece of literary craftsmanship but also a novel that helps elucidate today’s world.
~The Daily Telegraph
How does a writer tell the story of a traumatised nation without being unremittingly bleak? No Violet Bulawayo manages it by forming a cast of characters so delightful and joyous that the reader is seduced by their antics at the same time as finding out about the country’s troubles…A debut that is poignant and moving but which also glows with humanity and humour.”
~ The Independent on Sunday
A brilliantly poignant tale of what it is to be an outsider in a strange land.”
Enthralling…A provocative, haunting debut from an author to watch”
Subscribe to Learn English With Africa to receive new posts, right in your mail box.