We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo
Format: Paperback and Kindle (Read
this one twice)
Publisher: Vintage Books 2014. First published by Chatto & Windus in 2013
Release Date: 2013
Setting: Zimbabwe and DestroyedMichygen (Detroit, Michigan)
My Rating: 4.5 Stars ****
In a shanty town called Paradise, Darling and her friends spend their days stealing guavas and singing Lady Gaga, all while grasping at the memories of life before and dreaming of escape - a dream that one day comes true for Darling. But, as Darling discovers, her new life in America is a far cry from what she imagined and this new world brings with it dangers of its own.... (Source: Book Blurb)
A coming of age story of 10 year old Darling, living in a shanty town called Paradise (ironic, right?), somewhere in Zimbabwe. Darling and her friends - Godknows, Chipo, Bastard, Sbho and Stina - navigate the chaos, poverty, devastation, bad governance and sickness that riddle their home.
They all have dreams and hopes of rising above their ‘kaka’ lives. Dreams of better futures in America, Canada, or as Darling would put it, in a‘Country-Country’. Only then, would their lives really begin. Darling is lucky enough to get an opportunity to move to DestroyedMichygen (Detroit, Michigan) to live with her Aunt Fostalina. Her transition in America is however not as smooth as Darling had imagined. She now has new struggles and has to find new ways of dealing and adjusting in her new home while still trying to remain connected and rooted to her home-home and the people she left behind.
Darling’s and her friends’ adventures in paradise struck a chord with me. I was able to relate to her narration of hitting guava trees that did not belong to our parents with my childhood friends. As with Darling, it was not exactly stealing-stealing, but helping myself to the thingies; and not necessarily because my friends and I were as hungry as Darling and her friends were, but just for naughtiness sake. Her account of the kind of mischief her and her friends got in to was quite relatable and narrated in such a funny way, it had me laughing and laughing and laughing like I don’t know what!
Beyond the funny and easy way the narrative is presented, however, are very heavy, deeply sated, insightful and thought provoking themes that Bulawayo, in Darling’s voice, manages to bring forth. Themes of Poverty and Political Instability, Of Poor governance and its effects on a country’s economy, Of Sexual Abuse and the HIV/AIDs pandemic, Of brain drain and the mass emigration of citizens, Of names and significance of naming, Of religion and mental health, Of aid and the dependency mentality among others.
Bulawayo describes all this in brilliant language, strong and funny. In a language that hits the mark without being too ‘aggressive’. Some of the scenes in the book are harrowing and difficult to take in (for instance when Chipo finally talks about how she got pregnant and when her friends try to abort the pregnancy using a wire because they are upset at how easily she now gets tired and is no longer fun to play with), but her word play enables the reader to take all this in and then sit and reflect.
The second part of the book covers Darling in ‘DestroyedMichygen’ and I felt there was a bit of a disconnect with Part 1. Bulawayo struggled to connect the two parts and the changing language was also evident. The more Darling remained in America, the less engaging the writing becomes, almost as if America had taken it out of her. Her descriptions lacked the lustre it had in Paradise.
Was this intentional of the author? Did she want to portray how even language changes for most immigrants as they struggle to fit in? How they lose their voices as they struggle to speak in new languages? Darling in her analysis says;
When we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men. Because we were not using our languages we said things we did not mean; what we really wanted to say remained folded inside, trapped. In America we did not always have the words.
Bulawayo is a gifted writer, not some ‘kaka’ wonnabe, able to capture the reader’s attention from start to finish. If you haven’t read this book yet, you are missing out on a whole lot of awesomeness. Pick it up.
4.5 Stars ****