We Need New Names- NoViolet Bulawayo

This is a book that really grew on me. It starts off following a group of children in Zimbabwe: Darling, Stina, Chipo, Bastard and Godknows, seemingly innocent children living in a not so innocent environment. As a child, Darling and friends lived in shanty towns in Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s paramilitary police bulldozed down their homes. They spent their days stealing guavas,getting into mischief and daydreaming about the typical things African kids do- about eating good food and ultimately becoming rich overseas, in places such as Dubai and the USA.

This story is  a sort of coming of age story of Darling. What complicates Darling’s coming of age story is her moving to Detroit, Michigan to live with her aunt.As is typical among Africans (and also non-Africans, of course), an escape to the West may not be what it seems. Added to that,the struggles and sacrifices they’ve had to make:

“We hid our real names, gave false ones when asked. We built mountains between us and them, we dug rivers, we planted thorns- we had paid so much to be in America and we did not want to lose it all.”

How is life like for an African immigrant in the USA or elsewhere in the West? Bulawayo shows that it’s definitely not a bed of roses. There are so many stressors, including listening to misconceptions about one’s land and cultures and having to quickly adapt to a new culture.Adding to the stress is the fact that there are so many illegal immigrants in the States who feel stressed by the threat of deportation looming over them.

I really liked the book’s cross-cultural comparisons of Africa and the USA. The linguistic aspects were the most interesting to me:

“Because we were not in our country, we could not use our own languages, and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised, When we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men.”

Reading some of the reviews, I’ve noticed that some people felt disconnected from the second half of the story, the part where Darling is in the States. I have to be contrary and say that that was the strongest part to me; it resonated with me the most. Perhaps it is because I have Zimbabwean relatives and I know many African immigrants who have experienced hardships after moving to the States and elsewhere. I know a lot of immigrants who experience depression, mental health issues and alcoholism due to their immigration. I know so many of their stories and I feel that Bulawayo captured them very well.

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9 thoughts on “We Need New Names- NoViolet Bulawayo

  1. Nice review! Although I’m one of those people who didn’t really like the second half. I understood what she was trying to say but it wasn’t conveyed for me with the strength of the first half of the book. It resembled even more vignettes but with not enough background on the characters. Even so I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and can’t wait to read her next work.

    1. Thanks Deirdre:) In a way I felt that she dealt with too many issues in the latter half. I do understand that she was portraying a realistic picture of the African immigrant’s experience in the States but I felt everything just jumped out at us all at once.

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