We Need New Names | NoViolet Bulawayo


fiction  |  politics  |  bildungsroman  |  contemporary

First published 2013

Main Characters

Darling, Bastard, Chipo, Aunt Fostalina, Godknows, Sbho & Stina


Darling and her friends go to a place they call Budapest, to steal Guavas from the rich peoples houses because they are hungry. They hang around their village made from shacks, aptly named Paradise, playing games they have made up and waiting for the NGO people to come and bring them gifts and take their photos. Darling never used to live in a shack. Before Mugabe's men came and destroyed her home, she lived in a real house, with running water and all the amenities the people in rich Budapest still have.

She and her friends talk about the big world outside their small world with a painfully insightful clarity. They mock the white NGO workers who have come to "save them", they talk about the new influx of Chinese who only speak the language of money, and they are unsurprised when Darling's father returns from working in South Africa, infected with H.I.V./AIDS. These are big topics for 10-years olds to concern themselves with, but this is the reality for Darling and her friends.

Darling's aunt lives in America, and Darling plans to join her there in the future, believing that America really is the land of the free and of endless opportunities. She does eventually arrive in Detroit, Michigan, or as the children refer to it, "Destroyedmichygen", and is quickly disappointed when life in America is not as glorious as she thought it would be. 

My Verdict

I loved this book, probably because Bulawayo's style is incredibly satirical, almost to the point of sarcasm. Underlying this is a genuine warmth for the characters, but also a quiet anger which you can feel brewing. The book is set in Zimbabwe, where Bulawayo was born, and much like her fantastic novel, Glory, this book is also a searing attack on Mugabe and his corrupt government that destroyed the lives and hopes of so many of the country's citizens. I truly love Bulawayo's use of repetition, and there is one chapter in this book, told from the point-of-view of Aunt Fostalina's husband, which describes his experience as an immigrant. He talks about being an "illegal", while working hard to provide for his family in America, as well as back home. How disappointed he is that his son, who was born in America, cannot understand this and has no connection with his father's roots; the shame he feels for not being able to go back home to bury his parents when they die, because his lack of papers means he wouldn't be able to return to the US. 


It is a book that makes you consider things from different angles, forcing you into someone elses shoes, asking what is home and what is happiness?

Review Award - 5/5 | One of my top 5 books of 2022!

Posted 21.11.2022

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