After the first two pages of We need new names, I thought it was speculative fiction; that Darling and her friends were inhabitants of this surreal world called Paradise, and they could fly to Budapest chanting Vasco da Gama. I thought these kids with awkward names were actual birds. I’m abashed. Jumping into conclusions has never been a game with a pleasant end. But then, Darling made it easy to think she was anything but a ten year old. I mean her perception of Paradise! Who would have thought that it is just a village in another scarcely populated country in Africa? And names such as Bastard, Fraction, Godknows, and Mother of Bones certainly aren’t what you read in everyday African stories.

In We need new names, NoViolet Bulawayo writes in fonts so bold a long-sighted person won’t need visual aid to see, “This is nothing like what you ever read”. It is only apt that her veracious imagery of a preteen’s life reminds one of Maggie Harris’ Commonwealth prize winning story, Sending for Chatal where Maggie brilliantly captured a dyslexic girl’s pathetic life, and Uzodinma Iweala’s exceptional Beasts of no nation.

The child’s voice resonates throughout the book in a way that remembering it is written by an adult occurs only when you’re not reading.

 Mother would kill me dead if she found out…

They are silent when they go, none of that talk-talk of the days before…

Over every page, Bulawayo rolls the brush of literary devices to paint an endearing piece. She is quite fond of simile. There is a beaucoup of the word like in the book.

We need new names explores Darling’s interesting, adventurous and despairing preteen years and her transition into teen age. She is an extreme extrovert who loves playing out, hunting for guava with her friends, and stirring calm rivers (take upsetting a guard for one). She, her mother and overly religious grandmother live in a shack having lost their brick house to the new government’s bulldozing. Her father who had left home for South Africa finally returns with a strange illness. Darling has a pungent contempt for him because hanging out with her friends has been overruled by the duty of caring for him and he forgot all about Darling and her mother while away. Her father remains bedridden till he dies. Here, Bulawayo shows that children are capable of such weighty decisions as despising their parents.

My boy, he says again. I do not look at him because I don’t even want to look at him. He keeps saying my boy, until I finally say, “I’m not your boy, are you crazy? Go back, get away from your bed and go back to where you come from with your ugly bones and leave us alone”, but I’m saying it all in my head…

When Paradise deteriorated in the hands of AIDS, illiteracy, poverty, into a hamlet daily emigrated from, Darling’s crave to join her aunt in America heightens. One day with a rainbow-colored string- this supposedly will fight off evil- belting her waist, she leaves for the states with her aunt Fostalina. The next half of the book, set in Detroit, continues with Darling’s struggle with acute cold and snowfalls, and reminiscence of her Paradise home. She also discovers that this place which she had so much longed for isn’t all she expected it to be and that having no papers, visiting Paradise is but a pie in the sky. Her aunt is more concerned with fitness than looking after the family like an African woman should, and her cousin TK is an unfriendly fat teenage boy.

In order to fit in, like most immigrants do, Darling learns words and mannerisms of the white man and trades her accent for the American fluidity, dumping some African mentality along the way.

I have decided that the best way to deal with it all is to sound American, and the TV has taught me just how to do it…

I also have my list of American words that I keep under the tongue like talismans, ready to use: pretty good, pain in the ass, for real…

I know I will never forget those faces, and I know, looking at them, that I will never hit a child again, no matter how bad he is…

When people make no attempts to rid their relationships of distance’s proboscis, it feeds on them, and sucks till the relationships wither off like dead scales. With diminishing interest in writing home and staying on long calls with her friends in Paradise, having new friends in the U.S, sorting out cans and bottles at work for many hours, Darling’s bond with her childhood friends wears out. Towards the end of the book, Darling’s initiation into adulthood, marked by sharp sensual sensitivity and decision making, begins.

Tony’s body was pressed tight behind me like it would take saw to separate us, his hands up and down my sides, groping my stomach…

I haven’t figured out exactly what I want to get into, but I have zero passion for what Aunt Fostalina wants me to do.

We need new names is a story that unfolds without as much as a semblance of a plot, but out of the blue pushes one to the surface.

If you love stories written by authors who explore their creative liberty to the maximum, delivering keen details, We need new names is just what you’re looking for.


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