Written by NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names tells the story of Darling. Born in a shanty town called Paradise, Darling and her friends spend their days hungry, looking for juicy guavas to eat whilst daydreaming of a better tomorrow. A dream that one day becomes Darlings reality. Yet as Darling discovers her new life in America is a far from what she imagined..
Let me start off by saying I enjoyed the first half of the book. Not only was I privy to Darling’s activities with her friends, but I felt that Bulawayo was able to shine a light on the civil unrest and economic instability under the rule of President Mugabe; and she pushed to expose the realities of abuse and illness from a 10 year old’s view. Yet I felt Darling’s innermost thoughts and feelings are left in Zimbabwe/the first half of the book and in the second half of the novel now set in America, readers instead get a running commentary of the events that happen in America.
Nevertheless the most notable part of the book was the middle of Chapter 16. Somehow we depart from Darlings voice and hear the full, bold, loud voice of Bulawayo – originally I felt this was misplaced but now feel it is an intricate, detailed and vital part of book. Not only do many immigrants feel a great sense of disappointment when living their new reality which Bulawayo accurately expresses, but there is also a great sense of mourning for the loss of their land, the loss of their heritage because “we gave them names that would make them belong in America”, the loss of their freedoms and relative security because you do not have “papers” and the loss of their ageing parents because again they do not have papers to travel and see them.
In some aspects the immigrant experience theme within We Need New Names in particular reminded me briefly of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (
fantastic read and highly recommended although the ending was too abrupt for me) and I could completely relate to Darling’s strong desire to integrate whilst firstly being well aware that she would never quite fit in and secondly balancing the frustration she felt when being questioned about who she was now that she had changed her accent by an old friend. Yet overall I found the book lacking in depth and missing in detail thus I give this book a 6/10.
We Need New Names has the potential to be powerful but I’ll let you be the judge…