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Friday, September 20, 2013

We Need New Names

((  Written By: Staff Writer  ))  NoViolet Bulawayo’s compelling debut semibiographical novel, We Need New Names, is the story of protagonist Darling, who we meet as a 10-year old child in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Darling’s mother is impoverished and left with nothing more than her faith in God and a tin shack from which to raise her daughter.  Darling’s father is absent (he went to South Africa looking for work), and he returns home only because he has become devastatingly sick with AIDS.  And so with the help on an aunt living in America, Darling leaves behind everything that makes her who she is, “because it is no longer possible to stay.”  As a teenager in America, Darling acquires an American accent and quickly adopts the habits of her school friends—listening to Rihanna, wasting afternoons at the mall, and even watching pornography online.  Still, Darling is not quite at home in America yet she struggles to remain connected to her now fragile Zimbabwean roots, and this tension is palpable when she talks to her childhood friends, one of whom says what everyone, including Darling, is thinking:  “Darling, my dear, you left the house burning and you have the guts to tell me, in that stupid accent that you were not even born with, that doesn’t even suit you, that this [Zimbabwe] is your country?”

Without a doubt, the strongest part of We Need New Names is the first half, when Darling is in Zimbabwe, narrating as a child with no political agenda or self-conscious hang-ups.  Once Darling gets to the United States, the narrative weakens and at times is somewhat less interesting, if only for its familiarity (here, Chimanda Ngozi Adiche's Americanah shines).  The novel, however, remains powerful, poetic and moving, and one cannot help but remain connected to the poignant story of Darling’s life.  It's easy to connect to Darling's point of view, and her story of displacement both in Zimbabwe and America.
((  Photo Credits: Book Cover Art  ))