Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

I have developed a strong liking towards African Writers that of late when I go to the book store, I don’t even bother looking elsewhere. I feel like there’s so much more to know about us. That there’s so much similarity in our cultures and it’s important not to miss out on them. Whenever I read these stories, I feel like we’re just ordinary people chilling and having a conversation, sharing the experiences in our towns, countries, families and so on. In as much as I am on the receiving end, it feels relatable and I can visualize it from the rawness of the tale and how it’s told.

NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

We Need New Names is one of those. But first, Zimbabwean’s have such an interesting naming culture, Kenyans too, but they are way over the top. I thought these names were made up, but on doing some research I found out that it’s a thing there.

NoViolet on We Need New Names tells us the story of Darling and her best friends Bastard, Godknows, Stina, Sbho and Chipo, whom they used to spend their days with playing games and hitting the posh suburb (Budapest) to steal guava’s. Their lives changed one day when their houses were brought down by the police and they were forced live in the slums (Paradise). From having a real house with the real toilets, real bedrooms, to living in a makeshift room in the slums. How they had to adjust to this new environment, but dreamt of how they will leave the impoverished Paradise in search for the better life in America, Dubai, South Africa or Europe. Each of them had aspirations of where they would go, as long as it was away from Paradise. The name being a complete contradiction of the life they lead there in the shanties, it was nothing close to what we perceive to be paradise.

Through the  eyes of Darling, she paints the picture of Zimbabwe. From the political struggles, how the white men regardless of whether they were citizens were being harassed and being chased away by the rowdy locals. How during the election period they were hoping for Change, with activists such as BornFree playing a big role in creating awareness around Paradise, and how he was eventually brutally murdered. To early pregnancy, where her friend Chipo was impregnated by her grandfather. And as she continues to grow, during one of their games, they decide to act out what they see on TV – ER and try to get rid of what’s inside Chipo with a rusty hanger.

To the exposure to AIDS. After Darling’s father comes back having left them for South Africa, he comes back sick and she has to take care of him, alongside his mother and grandmother. She also has to keep this secret from her friends, because it’s embarrassing and she doesn’t understand why he has to be sick, or even why she needs to take care of him and not be outside playing with her friends. To her religious grandmother, Mother of Bones, who’s a staunch believer and a follower of the preacher who would pray for people in exchange for dollars with the promise of healing or exorcism.

For Darling, America was her real paradise, because her Aunt Fostalina stayed there, in the state of Detroit, Michigan, which they would joke and call “Destroyedmichigan”. She thought of the abundance it will bring her, only to get there and realize that as an immigrant there were only so many opportunities available for her. The weather didn’t make it any better either as she’d arrived during winter. Coming from the tropical weather, the cold and snow needed some adjusting to. And when she wanted to make arrangements to visit home to visit her family and friends, she couldn’t because she didn’t have the papers.

In a nutshell, it’s an intriguing book. Her writing style is quite conversational, as she shows you the life in Zimbabwe and America through the eyes of a young 10 year old girl, Darling. It almost feels like you’re accompanying them on their trips to Budapest to steal guavas, or sneaking on the rich folk; or like you’re playing with them the country-game. Here’s an excerpt,

Soon we are all busy drawing country-game on the ground, and it comes out great because today the earth is just the right kind of wet since it rained yesterday. To play country-game you need two rings: a big outer one, then inside it, a little one, where the caller stands. You divide the outer ring depending on how many people are playing and cut it up in nice pieces like this. Each person then picks a piece and writes the name of the country on there, which is why it’s called country-game.

But first we have to fight over the names because everybody wants to be certain countries, like everybody wants to be the U.S.A. and Britain and Canada and Australia and Switzerland and France and Italy and Sweden and Germany and Russia and Greece and them.  These are the country-countries.  If you lose the fight, then you just have to settle for countries like Dubai and South Africa and Botswana and Tanzania and them.  They are not country-countries, but at least life is better than here.  Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti, like Sri Lanka, and not even this one we live in – who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart?

I got the book from Text Book Center, Thika Road Mall.

Happy Reading.

Signing Off ~~~ *Kawi*