we need new names

Why do we need new names? Who are the ‘we’ in question? And what kind of name is ‘NoViolet Bulawayo? These were the questions in my mind when I first heard about the book and all through the period till I eventually got the book and started reading it. The questions were answered (except the third one) when I finished reading the book.

We need new names is the story of a country torn apart as seen through the eyes of ‘Darling’ the lead character. The story opens in a slum called ‘Paradise’ with Darling, then ten years old, and her friends engaged in tomfoolery and uninhibited enthusiasm as wont of children with no worries. But that description is also quite deceptive because as the story unravels we discover that the children had worries. Worries about having good food to eat and good clothes to wear; Worries about what they would eat when the guavas they feasted on goes out of season. Worries of ever reclaiming the lives they lived before coming to this slum called Paradise; Worries about losing one of theirs, Chipo, a pregnant young teen of eleven to death during delivery and so on. Amidst all these the children still had dreams. Sbho’s dream was to marry a rich man who will take her away from the hell she was living in Darling’s big dream was of going to ‘Destroyedmichygen (actually Detroit Michigan)’ to live with her Aunt Fostalina where everything worked which will put an end to all of her worries.

When you wish for something long enough most times you get it. As such Darling’s dream of going to America eventually came through. Life with her Aunt Fostalina and her husband Uncle Jojo left much to be desired to Darling. It was like the America of her dreams suddenly grew wings and flew away before she arrived.  While she often times felt the pang of going back home to her country she came to discover this was easier imagined than carried through.

Ms. Bulawayo tells a story about her country Zimbabwe without actually mentioning it’s name or the name of the President but gave the reader enough hints to be able to decipher the country she was talking about. Students of Literature will have a field day with this book because it is rich in those features that make literature literature. Sit-tightism, racism, patronizing attitude of the whites to the blacks, poverty, oppression, AIDS, brain drain,  bad governance, tendency to seek greener pastures rather than develop one’s country exhibited by Africans and many more are the issues explored by the author. The despair painted in this book is better read for oneself than being told about. Speaking through the voice of a ten year old Ms. Bulawayo was able to freely give expression to her thoughts without the inhibitions that are accustomed with older persons.

‘We need new names’ is a captivating and refreshing debut novel. No wonder it won the Etisalat prize for Literature.