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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Good, good, now say cheese, say cheese, cheese, cheeeeeeeese--the woman enthuses, and everyone says cheese. Myself I don't really say, because I am busy trying to remember what cheese means exactly, and I cannot remember. Yesterday Mother of Bones told us the story of Dudu the bird, who learned and sang a new song whose words she did not really know the meaning of and was caught, killed, and cooked for dinner because in the song she was actually begging people to kill and cook her.

The woman points at me, nods, and tells me to say cheeeeeese and I say it mostly because she is smiling like she knows me really well, like she even knows my mother. I say it slowly at first, and then I say, cheese and cheese, and I'm saying cheese cheeeeese and everyone is saying cheese cheese cheese and we are all singing the word and the camera is clicking and clicking and clicking. Then Stina, who is quiet most of the time, just starts and walks away. The woman stops taking pictures and says, Hey, where are you going? but he doesn't stop, doesn't even turn to look at her. Then Chipo walks away after Stina, then the rest of us follow them.

We leave the woman standing there, taking pictures as we go. Then Bastard stops at the corner of Victoria and starts shouting insults at the woman, and I remember the thing, and that she threw it away without even asking us if we wanted it, and I begin shouting also, and everyone else joins in. We shout and we shout and we shout; we want to eat the thing she was eating, we want to hear our voices soar, we want our hunger to go away. The woman just looks at us puzzled, like she has never heard anybody shout, and then quickly hurries back into the house but we shout after her, shout till we smell blood in our tickling throats.

Bastard says when we grow up we'll stop stealing guavas and move to bigger things inside the houses. I'm not really worried about that because when that time comes, I'll not even be here; I'll be living in America with Aunt Fostalina, eating real food and doing better things than stealing. But for now, the guavas. We decide on Robert Street, on a huge white house that looms like a mountain. The house has big windows and sparkling things all over, and a red swimming pool at the front, empty chairs all around it.

The good thing is that the house is set far back in the yard, and our guavas are right at the front, as if they heard we were coming and ran out to meet us. It doesn't take long to climb over the durawall, onto the tree, and fill our plastic bags. Today we are stealing bull guavas. These ones are big, like a man's angry fist, and do not really ripen to yellow like the regular guavas; they stay green on the outside, pink and fluffy on the inside, and taste so good I cannot even explain it.

***

Going back to Paradise, we do not run. We just walk nicely like Budapest is now our country too, like we build it even, eating guavas along the way and spitting the peels all over to make the place dirty.

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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