Darling, Bastard or Godknows. Those are some of the characters names in NoViolet Bulawayo’s first novel titled We Need New Names. But beyond the singularity of names given to her characters, the Zimbabwean author tackles the concept of Identity. How it shifts and how it can be hard to grasp sometimes. Published In 2013, it was then shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Bulawayo opens the novel in a Zimbabwean township called Paradise, which of course is anything but what its name suggests .The young Darling and her friends are hungry and go to a rich neighborhood called Budapest to steal guavas. The story goes on and depicts the socio political climate of Zimbabwe in the early 2000s to now: racial tensions, AIDS, poverty…..
Fleeing from the ambient miasm, Darling goes to live with her aunt in the US. And BAM ! The cultural shock is intense at first but then life goes on and as in chemical reaction, some things are and some things are lost. The accent, the languages the traditions of old leave way to new things. The description of a third world immigrant in the West is one of the highlights of the novel, stuck in between Home and home, how to hold on to your roots when the tree has been uprooted.
Through Darling’s journey, NoViolet Bulawayo depicts a trajectory that has become if not common, extremely recurrent in the migrations from Africa to western countries. She pokes fun at some of the stupid misconceptions about the continent and its people. But then do we really need new names? Or should we find solace in hope and memory and nostalgia for those of us who are “uprooted”?
We need new names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Chatto & Windus
WILFRIED KWYN MANGA