Summary and book reviews of We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names

A Novel

by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2013, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2014, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron

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Book Summary

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America's famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo's debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her - from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee - while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

Excerpt
We Need New Names

We are on our way to Budapest; Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me. We are going even though we are not allowed to cross Mzilikazi Road, even though Bastard is supposed to be watching his little sister Fraction, even though mother will kill me dead if she found out; we are just going. There are guavas to steal in Budapest, and right now I'd rather die for guavas. We didn't eat this morning and my stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and dug everything out.

Getting out of Paradise is not so hard since the mothers are busy with hair and talk, which is the only thing they ever do. They just glance at us when we file past the shacks and then look away. We don't have to worry about the men under the jacaranda either since their eyes never lift from the draughts. It's only the little kids who see us and want to follow, but Bastard just wallops the naked one at the front with a fist on his big head and they all ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In less skillful hands, such a thematically dense work could easily come across as self-pitying or mired down in the bogs of the “African tragedy.” Bulawayo confronts these challenges by giving us Darling, a no-nonsense ten-year-old narrator who stomps through life with a heart-wrenching, naked innocence.   (Reviewed by Naomi Benaron).

Full Review Members Only (992 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times

Darling is 10 when we first meet her, and the voice Ms. Bulawayo has fashioned for her is utterly distinctive - by turns unsparing and lyrical, unsentimental and poetic, spiky and meditative... stunning novel

Elle

Enthralling... a provocative, hauting debut from an author to watch

Booklist

[W]hat lingers is Bulawayo’s poignant insights into how a person decides what to embrace and what to surrender when adapting to a new culture in a new land

Publishers Weekly

[T]he first half of the book...is a remarkable piece of literature...Bulawayo’s use of English is disarmingly fresh, her arrangement of words startling.

Kirkus Reviews

Bulawayo crafts a moving and open-eyed coming-of-age story.

Library Journal

As Bulawayo effortlessly captures the innate loneliness of those who trade the comfort of their own land for the opportunities of another, Darling emerges as the freshest voice yet to spring from the fertile imaginations of talented young writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Dinaw Mengestu, who explore the African diaspora in America.

O, The Oprah Magazine

Bulawayo's use of contemporary culture...as well as her fearless defense of the immigrant experience through honoring the cadence of spoken language, sets this book apart---on the top shelf

The Observer (UK)

NoViolet Bulawayo uses words potently, blending brutality and lyricism in her unflinching, bittersweet story of displacement

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Bulawayo's novel is not just a stunning piece of literary craftsmanship but also a novel that helps elucidate today's world.

The Times (UK)

...often heartbreaking, but also pulsing with colour and energy.

Daily Mail (UK)

The challenging rhythm and infectious language of NoViolet Bulawayo's emotionally articulate novel turns a familar tale of immigrant displacement into a heroic ballad. Bulawayo's courage and her literary scope shine out from this outstanding debut

Author Blurb Aminatta Forna
NoViolet Bulawayo has created a world that lives and breathes - and fights, kicks, screams and scratches, too. She has clothed it in words and given it a voice at once dissonant and melodic, utterly distinct

Author Blurb Junot Diaz
I knew this writer was going to blow up. Her honesty, her voice, her formidable command of her craft -- all were apparent from the first page.

Author Blurb Edwidge Danticat
NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names is an exquisite and powerful first novel, filled with an equal measure of beauty and horror and laughter and pain. The lives (and names) of these characters will linger in your mind, and heart, long after you're done reading the book. No Violet Bulawayo is definitely a writer to watch

Reader Reviews

Mal

We Need New Names
Bulawayo’s style is impressive. She manages to capture Zimbabwe and the United States through the eyes of Darling, a 10 year old girl. Bulawayo's words paint a clear yet lyrical message of life in Zimbabwe, a country in turmoil for decades under ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Discovery of African Literature

How Emmanuel Sigauke Found African Literature and Founded a Magazine

A conversation between Naomi Benaron and Emmanuel Sigauke

Emmanuel SigaukeEmmanuel Sigauke is a Zimbabwean writer. He is an English professor at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento California and is the editor of the on-line Munyori Literary Journal which has published the work of both NoViolet Bulawayo, author of We Need New Names and Naomi Benaron.



Naomi Benaron: For my first question, I would like to know something of your own history as a writer in Zimbabwe. How did you come to writing? How did politics and writing intersect for you? Who were some of your early influences?

Chinua AchebeEmmanuel Sigauke: I started writing at thirteen in Mototi, a village in Southern Zimbabwe. ...

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