Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo


When I’m not cleaning the toilets or bagging groceries, I’m bent over a big cart like this, sorting out bottles and cans with names like Faygo, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, 7- Up, root beer, Miller, Budweiser, Heineken. They are collected over at the wheeled back here, where I have to separate the cans and put them in the rows of tall boxes lining the wall. When the boxes fill up, I pull out the giant plastic bags that hold the cans, tie their mouths and pile them into a colorful mountain. The glass bottles go into small carton boxes that are supposed to be stacked separately. 

You’re getting good at this; I bet if we blindfolded you, you’d still net all them cans. I glance up from the cart to see Jim, the short, hairy manager, grinning from the door of his office.  

We Need New Names

I had listed  ‘We Need New Names’ on my TBR list this year and when Text Book Centre online book club picked it up as the read for May, I vowed to read along. To make it even more interesting, they went ahead and organized their first ever Book club meet up discussion based on the book, 11th of June 2016. Now that meant I had to stop whatever else I had on my list and go for it! Simply because I needed to prepare adequately for this discussion.

As it turned out, the book didn’t disappoint. For those that have read it can attest to this. NoViolet Bulawayo has delivered an impressive, intriguing publication that keeps you glued to the texts and the drama that unfolds.

Book Review

Title: We Need New Names

Author: NoViolet Bulawayo

Category: Fiction 

‘We Need New Names’ is a story told through the eyes of a ten-year old girl named, Darling. With its setting in Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends, GodKnows, Chipo, Stina, Sbho and Bustard who are always after something canning live in a slum called Paradise, which is quite the vice of the name. If it’s not stealing guavas from the posh estate, Budapest, next to their shanty homes, these friends will be playing games. New games that they invent from time to time, based on circumstances that they witness or learn of. I totally related to this particular aspect and in my mind I visualized myself as a part of these children.

Bulawayo paints the picture of the challenges the citizens of Zimbabwe face and the economic instability they are subjected to. It is through these experiences that some of the country men evade to neighboring countries such as South Africa seeking better paying jobs to help them provide for their families. Darling and her friends, also seem to be after the same when they wish and dream of flying out to countries such as USA.

As fate will have it, Darling manages to join her aunt in USA, Detroit Michigan. But this turned out to be a living nightmare for her. She’s bullied in school, the weather wasn’t as favorable and she is forced to take up odd jobs to enable her pay school fees and send some money back home for her mother and grandmother’s upkeep (see excerpt). Isn’t this what we also think of our loved ones,  when they are living in countries which have been rated as the most developed ones in the world?

We never get to know about the hardships they encounter to pay bills, send some money back home, at times we  are quick to judge when favors aren’t extended to us, yet these people do the oddest jobs to survive in foreign countries.

Another thing that was brought to my attention during the TBC discussion, was the fact that we relay too much on international news channels such as the Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN to relay information on what’s happening in other countries. For instance, Uncle Kojo goes into a depression when TK joins the army and leaves to work in Afghanistan and  when Darling calls back home and Chipo answers they end up  getting to a disagreement because of what Darling gets to watch on BBC regarding her mother country;

‘But you are not the one suffering. You think watching BBC means you know what is going on?  No, you don’t, my friend, it’s the wound that knows the textures of the pain; 

What I took as my take home is the fact that indeed there’s no country in the world that doesn’t have its own share of hardships. Just because a particular country’s struggles are highlighted, doesn’t mean that everyone in that particular country goes through the same.

Aside from this, the book tackles other societal issues such as HIV, hypocrisy in religion and infidelity. It’s full of humor and get’s one intrigued from the very first page.

I chose to emphasize on the misconception we have between developed and developing countries because, let’s face it, isn’t that we tend to perceive? I’m trying hard to come out of that shell. Where I judge because of media news, other than getting in-depth information from people in  this regions. I hope you do too.

On the flip side, for those who haven’t read the book, how about adding it in your TBR list? I recommend ‘We Need New Names’ to anyone looking to gift a friend or a loved one who loves to read or is into African Literature. Trust you me, they’ll love it!

Have you read the book? What’s your take home?


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