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We Need New Names

”Look at the children of the land leaving in droves, leaving their own land with bleeding wounds on their bodies and shock on their faces and blood in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs and grief in their footsteps. Leaving their mothers and fathers and children behind, leaving their umbilical cords underneath the soil, leaving the bones of their ancestors in the earth, leaving everything that makes them who and what they are, leaving because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you just cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same.” 
From “We Need New Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo

I’ve just finished reading the novel We Need New Names by the talented young Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo and I loved it.
The book is based on the short story “Hitting Budapest” by the same author, which won the Caine Prize for African Writing and that you can read online

The book is divided in two main parts and tells the story of a girl, Darling, before and after immigration to the US.
The first part of the book takes part in Zimbabwe where Darling was born and plays in the streets of the town of Paradise with her childhood friends.
While they play they discover the world, including political instability, racism, hate, compassion, the adult world, family love, and community relationships. Their favorite pastime is to sneak into the rich white neighborhood of Budapest to steal guavas. During those escapades they witness a country changing in front of their eyes; power shifting from one group to another while their families get caught in the middle.

This is the best part of the book and one many of us who spent time playing on the streets as children in a remote corner of the world can relate too.
It also depicts the contrasting scenario of tradition vs. change, black Africans vs. the white colonizers, poverty vs. privilege.
Sometimes play turns into serious matter and the line between game and reality gets blurred. We can see through their eyes how they perceive the white visitors who are supposedly coming to help them and also the new Chinese colonizers who are fast claiming the African landscape.

These children try to make sense of a world cruel and unjust. AIDS, abuse, war, violence, all seen by children with no control over their lives. Out of school, roaming the streets without supervision, no safe place to live, no food, families disintegrating, only uncertainty in front of them.

The second part of the book takes place in the United States, where Darling is sent to live with her aunt. Although this part is less powerful, it still has many situations that an immigrant can relate to and understand pretty well.
That innocent girl of the beginning of the book is now a teenager struggling to find a place in the new land. How will she manage now far from her mother, her culture, her roots.
The new language barrier is very well described, the feeling of loneliness and out of place, the fear of being discovered as an illegal, and later the slow disconnection with her roots. 
We watch her coming of age away from her family, all by herself.

A quite sad but well written book, that tackles the subject of immigration, race, and cultural uprooting. A recommended reading.


“Hitting Budapest” by NoViolet Bulawayo (.pdf)
Coming Of Age Amid Upheaval In ‘We Need New Names’ by Ellah Allfrey – NPR
NoViolet Bulawayo Web Page