We Need New Names.

Author:Bulawayo, NoViolet
Position:Book review

By NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo's short story "Hitting Budapest," the opening chapter of this debut novel, won the 2011 Caine Prize for African writing. Bulawayo, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe, recently earned her MFA at Cornell and is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford.


THE STORY: Darling, 10, lives in a Zimbabwean shantytown called Paradise. In the "before," she and her friends--Godknows, Chipo, Sbho, Bastard--attended school, but then the paramilitary bulldozers came and razed their village. She and her friends spend their days stealing guavas from the wealthy suburbs to curb their hunger; attempt to get the baby out of Chipo's belly; and watch the burial of a Paradise resident who is beaten to death after trying to vote. Amid the political violence and social decay, Darling's father returns home from working in South Africa to die of AIDS; Darling is later sent to "Destroyedmichigan" (Detroit) to live with her aunt. With wide-eyed clarity, Darling relates the cultural differences between Zimbabwe and an America where, she discovers, even as she adopts the habits of her new friends, the discord between dreams and reality.

Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown. 304 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780316230810

Christian Science Monitor ****

"Unsurprisingly, given the intimate character of her prose, Bulawayo herself is a Zimbabwean immigrant to the United States, and she occasionally steps out of Darling's story to survey the immigrant experience more broadly in short vignettes inserted between chapters. ... We Need New Names is a vibrant first novel, and though deeply rooted in the particulars of Darling's story, tells a story that will resonate far more widely." RYAN LENORA BROWN

Independent (UK) ****

"Most affecting of all is the early intimate depiction of Darling and her sub-teen gang, with their speaking eyes and quick-witted banter--a wonderfully original set of characters whom Bulawayo allows a convincing combination of innocence and knowingness. Their indomitable energy, spirit and hope, often in the face of truly painful odds, are just memorable." MARGARET BUSBY

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. ... Using her gift for pictorial language, Ms. Bulawayo gives us snapshots of Zimbabwe that have the indelible color and intensity...

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