17 April, 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We need new Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Biddy, Highland Park)

Told in the voice of a ten-year old girl, this story is powerful and manages to combine humour with harsh reality. Darling lives with her mother and grandmother in a shantytown in Zimbabwe. She and her friends, named amongst others-Forgiveness, Godknows and Bastard, live extraordinary lives free of the boundaries of school (they have all been closed) and family life of their contemporaries in more affluent parts of the world.

The narrative appears almost dispassionate as Darling describes the seemingly endless games of the children. They flee the wealthy suburbs after sating their hunger with stolen guavas, act out dramatic scenes they have witnessed or pose while aid workers and tourists click their cameras.

In a layer below the apparent carefree fun of their lives is the memory of "Before" - before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policeman, before the schools were closed and before their fathers left for South Africa in pursuit of jobs as things fell apart in their homeland.

Darling clings on to her dreams of "My America" where she will go to live with her Aunt Fostalina and finds, instead of her land of milk and honey, a cold, dreary place where the snow sneaks in and prevents her "from going outside to live life".

This novel is crammed with word-pictures of places, times and characters. I rate it as a "must read"-prepare to be moved.

Author: NoViolet Bulawayo
New York, Reagan Arthur Books, 2013

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