Excerpt from We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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We Need New Names

A Novel

by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names
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  • First Published:
    May 2013, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2014, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron

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Chipo points at the thing and keeps jabbing at the air in a way that says, What's that? She rubs her stomach with her other hand; now that she is pregnant, like a real woman, Chipo is always playing with her stomach like maybe it's a toy. The stomach is the size of a football, not too big. We keep our eyes on the woman's mouth and wait to hear what she will say.

Oh, this? It's a camera, the woman says, which we all know; even a stone can tell that a camera is a camera. The woman wipes her hand on her skirt, pats the camera, then aims what is left of the thing at the bin by the door, misses, and laughs to herself like a madman. She looks at us, like maybe she wants us to laugh with her, but we are busy looking at the thing, flying in the air like a dead bird before hitting the ground. We have never ever seen anyone throw food away, even if it's a thing. Chipo looks like she wants to run after it and pick it up. The woman's twisted mouth finishes chewing, and swallows. I swallow with her, my throat tingling.

How old are you? the woman asks Chipo, looking at her stomach like she has never seen anybody pregnant.

She is eleven, Godknows replies for Chipo. We are ten, me and her, like twinses, Godknows says, meaning him and me. And Bastard is eleven and Sbho is nine, and Stina we don't know because he has no birth certificate.

Wow, the woman says. I say wow, too, Wow wow wow, but I do it inside my head. It's my first time ever hearing this word. I try to think what it means but I get tired of grinding my brains so I just give up.

And how old are you? Godknows asks her. And where are you from? I'm thinking about how Godknows has a big mouth that will get him slapped.

Me? Well, I'm thirty-three, and I'm from London. This is my first time visiting my dad's country, she says, and twists the chain on her neck. The golden head on the chain is the map of Africa.

I know London. I ate some sweets from there once. They were sweet at first, and then they just changed to sour in my mouth. Uncle Vusa sent them when he first got there but that was a long time ago. Now he never sends, Godknows says. He looks up at the sky like maybe he wants an aeroplane to appear with sweets from his uncle.

But you look only fifteen, like a child, Godknows says, looking at the woman now. I am expecting her to reach out and slap him on the mouth but then she merely smiles like she has not just been insulted.

Thank you, I just came off the Jesus diet, she says, very pleased. I look at her like What is there to thank? I'm also thinking, What is a Jesus diet, and do you mean the real Jesus, like God's child?

I know from everybody's faces and silence, that they think the woman is strange. She runs a hand in her hair, which is matted and looks a mess; if I lived in Budapest I would wash my whole body everyday and comb my hair nicely to show I was a real person living in a real place. With her hair all wild like that, and standing on the other side of the gate with its lock and bars, the woman looks like a caged animal. I begin thinking what I would do if she actually jumped out and came after us.

Do you guys mind if I take a picture? she says. We don't answer because we're not used to adults asking us anything; we just look at the woman, at her fierce hair, at her skirt that sweeps the ground when she walks, at her pretty peeking feet, at her golden Africa, at her large eyes, at her smooth skin that doesn't even have a scar to show she is a living person, at the earring on her nose, at her T-shirt that says, Save Darfur.

Great, now stand close together, the woman says.

You, the tall one, go to the back. And you, yes, you, and you, look this way, no, I mean you, with the missing teeth, look at me, like this, she says, her hands reaching out of the bars, almost touching us.

Excerpted from We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Copyright © 2013 by NoViolet Bulawayo. Excerpted by permission of Reagan Arthur. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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