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We Need New Names

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  8,103 ratings  ·  1,304 reviews
A remarkable literary debut -- shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize! The unflinching and powerful story of a young girl's journey out of Zimbabwe and to America.

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Befo
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Reagan Arthur Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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Karen I know how you feel, this book is not impressing me a great deal either! Here's what I think: sometimes books can fall into the category of being…moreI know how you feel, this book is not impressing me a great deal either! Here's what I think: sometimes books can fall into the category of being beloved by the "professional" literary community. Critics praise a certain book, librarians recommend it on their lists, it gets heavy notice, and perhaps the writer has already received an award for his/her previous efforts. I really feel that can get to be a bandwagon type of effect. Paid, professional critics would probably heatedly deny it, but I think they all influence each other, whether they are discussing music, art, or books. It's always interesting to me how similar they sound, praising the same elements and often ignoring the same flaws. That of course has an effect on us lesser mortals -- while you might privately think a book is fair to middling, it can be uncomfortable to be that lonely voice dissenting in the face of all the rah-rah talk from the NY Times Sunday mag or the committee that puts out the list for the Booker Prize, say. I think this book kind of fits there. It happens to be one of those debut novels that everyone seems to feel is just so profound, so it gets on the fast track for success. The librarians in my area chose it as one of their top recommendations for 2014, and I think that is a BIG reason why it is the read for my book club this month. (less)

Community Reviews

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EDIT 10/09/2013:- Oh boy! This has been included in the shortlist despite my misgivings to the contrary. Heartiest congratulations to NoViolet Bulawayo!

Books like this one have me fumbling around for the right approach to review them, because they try to cram in too much within the scope of a regular sized novel and consequently just stop short of resonating strongly with the reader.

It's like Bulawayo had a message to give me, something potent and fiercely honest enough to burn right through
This is a book that really grew on me. It starts off following a group of children in Zimbabwe: Darling, Stina, Chipo, Bastard and Godknows, seemingly innocent children living in a not so innocent environment. As a child, Darling and friends lived in shanty towns in Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s paramilitary police bulldozed down their homes. They spent their days stealing guavas,getting into mischief and daydreaming about the typical things African kids do- about eating good food and ultimately becom ...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
I had a spirited chat with a fan of this book. She (naturally) stated I was behaving in a sexist manner and implied, with dark tones of voice, that I was probably a racist too, because I don't think this is a particularly good book, and *certainly* don't think it's Booker-worthy.

Rating: 2.75* of five

The Publisher Says: A remarkable literary debut -- shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize! The unflinching and powerful story of a young girl's journey out of Zimbabwe and to America.

Darling is on
Paul Bryant
A few years ago I was listening to one of those From our Own Correspondent programmes on the BBC. A female journalist was on an assignment in Mali and had got herself completely lost. She drove up to this village the middle of nowhere and a whole crowd of teenagers spotted her and came crowding around. She noticed with a jolt that they all had Osama Bin Laden t-shirts on. With a sinking feeling, she figured that she might be in some serious trouble. They demanded to know who she was. She told th ...more
Moses Kilolo
You may love a book and hate it at the same time. I did, for this one.

Why love? Too many reasons, African, Man Booker tagging at it, youngish writer, and a powerful and unique style that is not too easy to forget.

Why hate? Because, because, why cram in a million things into a single book? At some point I felt like I was reading a reportage of Zimbabwe and the American immigrant experience all rolled into a tight, clever, linkage to the main character incidents and (mis)adventures. So that the
NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel has just been added to the long list for the 2013 Booker Prize. A short story of hers called “Hitting Budapest” won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Literature and became the first of several astounding chapters in …New Names. The work feels brave and completely fresh--raw even. The perspective, voice, and language held me spellbound.

On Bulawyao’s website is a quote from Chinua Achebe:
“Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend
Rick Riordan
Hard to say what drew me to this book -- the author's name is just awesome. The cover is eye-catching. The reviews have been stellar. Also, I've long been interested in the painful history of Zimbabwe (once British colonial Rhodesia) since I tried to figure out how to teach this hugely complex subject and do it justice in my middle school social studies classroom. (I can't say that I ever really succeeded.) Bulawayo writes a searingly beautiful story -- a fictionalized memoir -- about a young gi ...more
Tinashe Mushakavanhu
I have always wanted to read myself in contemporary Zimbabwean
literature. We Need New Names does just that for me and more. It
evokes songs of my childhood, games we played and other familiar
memories such as falling off a neighbour's guava tree. And nobody who
has ever lived in a township forgets - the buzzy streets, the jostling
humanity, the smells and sounds, the vivacity and the infinite

NoViolet Bulawayo harnesses all her creative energy and formidable
command of craft to produce a debu
This book was chosen as 'Book of The Year"... Here in San Jose, California.

The story is told through the eyes of a 10 year old girl named'Darling', who first grew up in Zimbabwe.
The first half of the book she lives in the slum called Paradise.
Darling and her friends play in the streets...steal guavas... Look for other food.
Living with extreme poverty...and daily life difficulties ..,Darling seems to accept her life.
Her still her home. It's what she knows.

During the s
Dec 29, 2014 Antonomasia rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Antonomasia by: Booker longlist
This had been on my radar for a while, but due to a few disappointing reviews I doubt I would have bothered with it if I hadn't been reading the Booker longlist. And whilst the book's not perfect, it was a great deal better than I'd been led to believe.

The freshness of the voice hit me from the first page. Darling, the young Zimbabwean narrator is on the way to steal guavas from a rich area with her friends, says We didn't eat this morning and my stomach feels like somebody took a shovel and dug
More like 3.5 stars...the beginning while raw and realistic was slow for me...the second half picked up and was more engaging. Not sure that I would classify this as a novel as the plot wasn't linear but seemed more like a group of short stories meshed together. Also, the character development wasn't flushed out for some of the characters...the pregnant friend, the dying father, the crazy soon as their stories began they ended. Enjoyed reading about the cultural, food, family, childre ...more
The author of We Need New Names chose her own new name for her writing. ‘NoViolet’ is a tribute to Elizabeth Tshele’s mother Violet, who died when Elizabeth was only 18 months old.

She also chose interesting names for some of the characters in this book set in Zimbabwe. The story is a first person narrative by Darling, beginning at about age 10. Her close friends include Bastard, Chipo, Godknows. Her grandma is Mother of Bones. They live in Paradise; in the first chapter Hitting Budapest (which w
Mocha Girl
My thoughts:

- An enlightening debut that takes the reader to Zimbabwe during the Mugabe regime. The subject matter is a bit grim as the novel opens with Darling and her friends leaving their shanty town to roam the finer neighborhoods in search of guava for food.

- We learn of the daily routines of the displaced civilians: the adults who neglect children in search for work in the mines and the borders; the games the children play to fight boredom and make sense of the dire futures.

- The author
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

NoViolet Bulawayo tells a tale that is almost unfathomable. Who could ever imagine living the first few years of life as an average middle-class girl, in an average house, in an average town, attending an average school and having that world flipped upside down? That is the story of what happens to Darling and her friends when bulldozers sweep through their average lives in Zimbabwe, demolishing everything in their path. Now the childr
Oh stars, ratings. Bulawayo' s writing has effectively depicted such a bleak picture in my brain of life in Zimbabwe, life in America, life anywhere, that I am thoroughly depressed and somewhat shamed. This is a writer who charms you with the antics of the poor but creative and precocious children in their "Paradise" with the clever and intelligent games they play. Through the memorable character of Darling, we experience these games, and then the hard realities of coming to America. Bulawayo sl ...more
Contradiction, humor, freshness

I came away from “We Need New Names” in a state of blissed out confusion. Darling is the main protagonist. We follow her from the age of ten to about age fourteen. She was born in Zimbabwe and soon immigrates to the US where she joins an aunt. This is a book of contradictions as is Africa..and America. Compared to Zimbabwe America seems to Darling equal parts blessing and curse, a step up and a step down and away from the majesty of Africa, an Africa that is being
Those who leave cannot return.
They have travelled too far.
Those who leave will not return.
They have lost who they were.

Look at them leaving in droves, the children of the land, just look at them leaving in droves. Those with nothing are crossing borders. Those with strength are crossing borders. Those with hopes are crossing borders. Those with loss are crossing borders. Those in pain are crossing borders. Moving, running, emigrating, going, deserting, walking, quitting, flying, fleeing-to all o
An amazing first novel! Bulawayo is a gifted story-teller. This is fiction, but it feels autobiographical.

The story is narrated by Darling, at the beginning a ten year old girl living in Zimbabwe with her mother and grandmother. Her father has left for South Africa for work and has not returned. She prowls around her shanty-town, Paradise, with a pack of lively playmates, inventing games (like “Find Bin Laden”) and stealing guavas from a nearby community where wealthy whites and Africans live in
Friederike Knabe
[revised] NoViolet Bulawayo's debut novel, We Need New Names, is the story of Darling, a young Zimbabwean girl living in a shantytown called 'Paradise'. She is feisty ten-year old, an astute observer of her surroundings and the people in her life. Bulawayo structures her novel more like a series of linked stories, written in episodic chapters, told loosely chronologically than in one integrated whole. In fact, the short story "Hitting Budapest", that became in some form an important chapter in t ...more
This book was really a disappointment after I read so many positive reviews. I have read many books about southern Africa in particular, and this one really lacked direction and a compelling heroine. The first half of the book is set in a small village in Zimbabwe, and, while there is evidence of terrible things happening, the danger is told about in more of an abstract way. I accepted that, because Darling, the main character, is only 11 or so and the novel is told exclusively with her voice. W ...more
We Need New Names is a lyrical, vibrant vignette of experiences, less a cohesive novel than a keening coming-of-age observation of loss, change, loneliness, and assimilation. It is separated in two parts: Ten-year-old Darling's Before: her life in a shantytown in Harare; and her After: an adolescence in Michigan, where she is sent to live with an aunt after Zimbabwe's socioeconomic and political collapse in the early 2000s.

The writing is lovely and Bulawayo's observations are heartbreakingly vi
Absolutely fantastic! Phenomenal writing, with an interesting and well-paced storyline. NoViolet Bulawayo has a very original, distinct and vibrant voice that shines through on every single page. She has a very compelling way of using language to create vivid scenes that make the reader feel as though they are reliving a memory of their own, despite how far removed their own experiences might have been. From Darling's childhood innocence in Zimbabwe to her struggle through adolescence in America ...more
The writing in this book is so beautiful, I wanted to wallow in it, to savor it, to devour it. It is truly extraordinary.

Darling, the Zimbabwean child protagonist, is innocent and jaded, kind and cruel, and altogether unique. She and her oddly named friends have seen changes in their country, some for better, some for worse, some just for hope. This is a story, like so many others, of living with those changes and with the promises that going to America hold. What makes this one different is the
Darling – the young narrator of this powerful debut novel – lives in a town in Zimbabwe called Paradise – a misnomer if ever there was one. A collection of shacks inhabited by displaced families, the run-down town is just a stone’s throw from neighboring Budapest, where whites and wealthy Africans absorb the good life.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s prose soars in her descriptions of this poignant childhood. We experience the hunger pangs that force Darling and her friends to venture out and steal fruit fro
Diane S.
3.5 I loved the names of the children in this novel, Godknows, Bastard and Darling to name a few. Darling is our narrator, she is ten years old in a very changed Zimbabwe, once they went to school , now the schools are boarded up and the children roam and steal. They live in Paradise, which is a sort of shanty town, but they go to Budapest, which is where the wealthy black and the white people live. Chipo, her 11 yr. old friend is pregnant and the children try to understand how she got that way ...more
NoViolet's beginning started out very strong. However, when Darling moved to "Destroyedmichygen" to live with Aunt Fostalina the book went downhill. She didn't give us information on why her childhood friends were given names like "Bastard, Godknows, Nomoreproblems," etc. Not too many details about how they ended up were revealed which was odd because these were the same kids that shared a tender moment with her father when he was bed-ridden and dying from AIDS. Although, I was disappointed, I c ...more
"When we were little we used to play in the wind whenever it came. We would run outside to meet it, hands outstretched like wings, bodies balanced on tiptoe and reaching toward the sky."

There is a recurring theme of flying in We Need New Names. The flight of those who would move on to better places. The flight that is denied those left behind. The dream of flying that gives hope to those still on the ground. As I read these vignettes I was filled with the urgent desperation of the need to fly.
Maybe not quite 4 stars but for the way she writes about childhood in Zimbabwe. I love the characters' names and their determination to live their childhoods despite the tragedies surrounding them.

What Bulawayo does poignantly is shatter the myth that America is the be-all, end-all. The storytelling fell apart for me in the last third, but the message and pain were clear.

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
The Book of Unknown Americans
Jennifer D
i have no idea how to review this book, so apologies if this is terrible or convoluted.

this 'novel' grew out of NoViolet Bulawayo's Caine prize-winning short story, hitting budapest. i use 'novel' there because i feel this book is really more a series of connected stories. it may be neither here nor there for you as a reader, but for me, the structure created a strange flow to it, quite abrupt at moments.

10yo darling is our narrator. she and her young friends are navigating a fragile and violent
“We Need New Names” starts with a bang, but ends with a whimper. The first half of the book is set in Zimbabwe, and the language and characters there are rich, varied, and emotionally resonant. Although the world that’s depicted by Darling, the pre-teen narrator, is hardly an uplifting one - there’s widespread poverty and almost no food; the government bulldozed their houses, forcing them to rebuild a shantytown they call “Paradise”; NGO workers occasionally show up to give them a few things, no ...more
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NoViolet Bulawayo (pen name of Elizabeth Tshele) is a Zimbabwean author, and Stegner Fellow at Stanford University (2012–2014).
Bulawayo won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story "Hitting Budapest," about a gang of street children in a Zimbabwean shantytown.
Her first novel We Need New Names (2013) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, making her the first African female w
More about NoViolet Bulawayo...
Hitting Budapest Snapshots - Nouvelles voix du Caine Prize African Roar 2011 Svenska Granta 3: Jakt 1914-Goodbye to All That: Writers on the Conflict Between Life and Art

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“The problem with English is this: You usually can't open your mouth and it comes out just like that--first you have to think what you want to say. Then you have to find the words. Then you have to carefully arrange those words in your head. Then you have to say the words quietly to yourself, to make sure you got them okay. And finally, the last step, which is to say the words out loud and have them sound just right.
But then because you have to do all this, when you get to the final step, something strange has happened to you and you speak the way a drunk walks. And, because you are speaking like falling, it's as if you are an idiot, when the truth is that it's the language and the whole process that's messed up. And then the problem with those who speak only English is this: they don't know how to listen; they are busy looking at your falling instead of paying attention to what you are saying.”
“Look at the children of the land leaving in droves, leaving their own land with bleeding wounds on their bodies and shock on their faces and blood in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs and grief in their footsteps. Leaving their mothers and fathers and children behind, leaving their umbilical cords underneath the soil, leaving the bones of their ancestors in the earth, leaving everything that makes them who and what they are, leaving because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same.” 23 likes
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