TBTW: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
This is the first of the books of 2015 that are not by American authors. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read this post’s footnote.) NoViolet Bulawayo is a young author (33) from Zimbabwe, though she attended school here in the States and was also a fellow at Stanford. She has thus far written just the one novel, We Need New Names, which I loved (as did the entire literary world, if the awards/shortlists are any indication).
In short, it is beautiful. Her style runs the gamut from verbose to terse, but never accidentally. The imagery is phenomenal, the characters are crystalline, and you can almost taste the emotions. We Need New Names follows young Darling, who grows up in Zimbabwe with her mother and her friends. Everything comes to the reader through the eyes and mind of Darling, who is just ten when the story starts. As Darling grows up, buries her father and abandons her friends for the green grasses of America, the reader grows up as well, exposed to an increasingly complex understanding of the issues at hand. Some issues, which I’m sure Bulawayo herself has had to deal with, include well-meaning American mothers asking about the issues at “home” – meaning the continent, of course. Because, just as you and I can provide testimony on the racial tensions present tonight in Ferguson or New Jersey, Darling can explain the historical basis of conflict in the Congo or Sudan. (Which are approximately 2500 and 4000 km, respectively, from Zimbabwe)
There were moments where I wanted to stop reading because it was too hard. There were moments where I wanted to stop reading because it was too beautiful. There was at least moment when I wanted to get up and dance:
After the food comes the music…old songs I remember from when I was little. … When they dance, I always stand by the door and watch because it is something to see.
They dance strange. Limbs jerk and bodies contort. They lean forward like they are planting grain, sink to the floor, rise as whips and lash the air. They huddle like cattle in a kraal, then scatter like broken bones. They gather themselves, look up, and shield their faces from the sun and beckon the rain with their hands. When it doesn’t come they shake their heads in disappointment and then get down, sinking-sinking-sinking like ships drowning.
Perhaps because I spent last semester studying African dances this meant something more to me, but I could imagine the men and women literally dancing off the page and all I wanted was to get up and join them. But other parts made me nearly cry, because of the heart-wrenching reality of the lives people around the world lead, so brilliantly described in this passage:
There are two homes inside my head: home before Paradise, and home in Paradise; home one and home two. Home one was best. … There are three homes inside Mother’s and Aunt Fostalina’s heads: home before independence, … home after independence, … and then the home of things falling apart, which made Aunt Fostalina leave and come here. Home one, home two, and home three. There are four homes inside Mother of Bones’s head: home before the white people came to steal the country, and a king ruled; home when the white people came to steal the country and then there was war; home when black people got our stolen country back after independence; and then the home of now. Home one, home two, home three, home four.
Needless to say, I enjoyed We Need New Names. Filled with humor through darkness, home to a stumbling girl trying to find her way, and written as if each moment was truly experienced by Bulawayo herself, this debut novel worms its way into your heart and then sits there. A fabulous way to kick off the 2015 reading challenge to read other nations’ authors, I would strongly recommend it to any adult looking for their next book.