Just Read: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve not read a book written as though someone was casually speaking their language to themselves. There are no “big” words to trouble oneself with as the language is quite simple. It’s like a child was telling a story.

The style of writing is new to me, especially given the context; “African writing”. It is interesting to note that hitherto this book, all the African works I have read are quite strict as regards grammar and diction. For example, conversation is clearly marked with either quotation marks or italics. In this book, there is none of that, however, it is not as though you will not know.

I think it’s a brave piece of work.

NoViolet’s theme is a very popular African theme. “Exodus”. In this book, she portrays the life of a Zimbabwean girl before and after she leaves her native home for the United States of America. It’s a melodramatic tale that has some very low points, some very high points plus some very awkward points.

It’s easy to relate with what she’s talking about, which gives credence to the term “Africa is a country.” As she writes, you realise that most African countries share the same history, political and cultural context. So she might as well be talking about Uganda as she talks about Zimbabwe.

NoViolet is not shy when it comes to putting one on tension. There are two particular parts in the story that made me want to stop reading, close my eyes, and jump to the next chapter. Some vivid pictures that were just too in your face to “face”.

Her descriptions are fresh. There is a part where she describes dance, it is written so creatively that every word dictates an image that makes you smile when you think about it.

On reading the acknowledgement, I understood that perhaps some of the best-told stories are those that are our own lives. Maybe her characters are invented but you cannot help but think the girl in the story is herself and many others brought together.

The book, without being too sombre or too comic asks the question to the African not living in Africa, can yo call this home when you do not live here?


You might wonder why I add this, but a thought came to me about the book being put in literature class maybe in Zimbabwe or Uganda. I thought to myself, would I be comfortable with the many sexual connotations it is littered with? I went through an entire chapter describe a porn site. Not that I have not been to one, and not that many of the reactions expressed in the book were the ones I expressed; however, in younger hands, is this material harmless.

Maybe that’s my own insecurities. Nonetheless, We Need New Names is surely one of the best representations of current African writing.

View all my reviews

I just finished my fifth book in the 2015 African Reading Challenge on Kinna Reads. More to come!

Photo: creativewriting.stanford.edu



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