Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo


4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Initially, I was a little put off of this book when I started reading it because of the lack of speech marks – which may seem like a petty thing, but it’s not a device I particularly like. To me, it makes the text run into itself, and can sometimes make it difficult to tell who is talking. However I quickly got over this small hiccup, due to NoViolet Bulawayo’s gift for prose. Her writing is visual and vivid, shocking and touching, but also honest.

I felt just as gripped by Darling’s simple life of stealing fruit and inventing new games to play with her friends as I would be with some epic quest-filled fantasy or giant space opera. I was drawn into Darling’s world, where every little thing seemed to have so much meaning and significance.

However, this book was not just about a ten year old girl in Zimbabwe, passing her days playing games with her friends. There were so many serious issues – politics, poverty, AIDs, rape, child pregnancy, racism – covered within the book. The portrayal of these issues through the eyes of an innocent child made them all the more shocking, such as Darling’s emotionless reaction to her father dying of AIDs.

Darling’s main ambition is to move to America, and live with her aunt in Detroit (referred to by Darling and her friends as ‘Destroyedmicheygen’). Eventually she is able to join her aunt in the US, and this is where NoViolet Bulawayo demonstrates fantastic character progression. Darling’s language changes as she ages and adapts to the USA. She picks up slang, she is suddenly surrounded by technology and supermarkets and other things that were missing or less common in her life in Zimbabwe. As she grows, we see her lose her curiosity in things. We see how many people like Darling move to the States with big hopes and dreams, with the aim of providing for their family, and then can never return home because if they do, they cannot re-enter the States. Therefore they must sacrifice this connection with their family for the ability to provide for them.

We Need New Names was an absolutely beautiful book, in both prose and subject matter. We see Darling change from a curious young girl to a hard-working woman, working her way towards community college and also sending money back home for her mother, friends and other people from her village. The book felt both sad and joyful at the same time, in that Darling achieved her goals, but for that she had to sacrifice her connection to her homeland. Definitely highly recommended to all.

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