Rowena's Reviews > We Need New Names

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
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Oct 15, 13

bookshelves: african-lit
Read from October 11 to 13, 2013

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 becoming rich overseas, in places such as Dubai and the USA.

This story is a sort of coming of age story of Darling. What complicates Darling’s coming of age story is her moving to Detroit, Michigan to live with her aunt.As is typical among Africans (and also non-Africans, of course), an escape to the West may not be what it seems. Added to that,the struggles and sacrifices they've had to make:

“We hid our real names, gave false ones when asked. We built mountains between us and them, we dug rivers, we planted thorns- we had paid so much to be in America and we did not want to lose it all.”

How is life like for an African immigrant in the USA or elsewhere in the West? Bulawayo shows that it’s definitely not a bed of roses. There are so many stressors, including listening to misconceptions about one’s land and cultures and having to quickly adapt to a new culture.Adding to the stress is the fact that there are so many illegal immigrants in the States who feel stressed by the threat of deportation looming over them.

I really liked the book's cross-cultural comparisons of Africa and the USA. The linguistic aspects were the most interesting to me:

“Because we were not in our country, we could not use our own languages, and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised, When we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men.”

Reading some of the reviews, I’ve noticed that some people felt disconnected from the second half of the story, the part where Darling is in the States. I have to be contrary and say that that was the strongest part to me; it resonated with me the most. Perhaps it is because I have Zimbabwean relatives and I know many African immigrants who have experienced hardships after moving to the States and elsewhere. I know a lot of immigrants who experience depression, mental health issues and alcoholism due to their immigration. I know so many of their stories and I feel that Bulawayo captured them very well.





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Reading Progress

10/11/2013 marked as: currently-reading
10/12/2013 page 112
37.0% "This book has reminded me of a word from my childhood- futsek!" 6 comments
10/13/2013 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 50) (50 new)

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message 1: by Zanna (new) - added it

Zanna I always feel I should push something up my list when everyone is reading it, but feel sorry for the books I bought this time last year and still have not opened!


Rowena I know what you mean! I wasn't even planning on reading it but I keep seeing it everywhere so I decided to give it a shot. I quite like it so far.


message 3: by Zanna (new) - added it

Zanna I'm definitely planning to read it at some point! No doubt I'll be influenced by your impressions...


message 4: by Cheryl (new) - added it

Cheryl Uhm, review please? :) This has been up there on my list.


Rowena Cheryl wrote: "Uhm, review please? :) This has been up there on my list."

LOL! Yes, ma'am :) I will do one some time this week for sure!


Heather I second that, Cheryl!


message 7: by Cheryl (new) - added it

Cheryl Heather wrote: "I second that, Cheryl!"

No pressure or anything.... Ha :)


Andrew I'm reading this at the moment, and will be interested to see what you think of it, Rowena. No pressure...


Rowena I suppose I'd better get started with my review :D


message 10: by Caroline (new) - added it

Caroline A great review Rowena.

I think it is hugely stressful to emigrate, and it must be a hundred times more so when you have been fed misconceptions about the country you are moving to. I can't even begin to imagine the stress of being an illegal immigrant.... I read somewhere that immigrants have higher levels of mental health issues than home populations, and I am not at all surprised. It must be such a challenge.


message 11: by Lit Bug (new) - added it

Lit Bug Beautiful review :) It sure must be stressful for many, though for me it only rings bells of joy. Looking forward to read this book...


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

wonderful review Ro! I have this book and your review is going to make me start it tonight!


message 13: by Libby (new) - added it

Libby Another winning review, Rowena. Added this one to my shelves. : )


message 14: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King I love the review Rowena and particularly the writing style.


message 15: by Cheryl (new) - added it

Cheryl Great review, Rowena! Love how you captured Balawayo's themes. Like you, the American immigrant life is near and dear to my heart and now I must read this:)


Heather Now I can't wait to read this. I can't imagine what this experience must be like. Unfortunately, many people don't bother to consider it at all.


Chris Blocker I have to agree, the second half was what resonated with me as well. In fact, had the whole book been about Darling's experience in America, I would've enjoyed it much more than I did.

Great review.


message 18: by Chaymâa (new) - added it

Chaymâa You're bringing on a very interesting topic, Rowena. Considering the fact I'm Moroccan (which means African too), I expect the book would affect me in the same way it did to you. Throughout my life, I heard many tragic stories about Moroccan immigrants going abroad (especially to Europe) and not succeeding, even worse, they become a target to racism and discrimination. Too sad..


Rowena Caroline wrote: "A great review Rowena.

I think it is hugely stressful to emigrate, and it must be a hundred times more so when you have been fed misconceptions about the country you are moving to. I can't even ..."


Thanks Caroline:)

I think a lot of people don't realize so many are forced to leave their lands because of strife of some sort. When they are met with misconceptions of a land they are so proud of, the only land they truly know how to navigate, it must be extra stressful:(


Rowena Lit Bug wrote: "Beautiful review :) It sure must be stressful for many, though for me it only rings bells of joy. Looking forward to read this book..."

Thanks Lit! I know what you mean though- I was very happy to emigrate to Canada.


Rowena Vern wrote: "wonderful review Ro! I have this book and your review is going to make me start it tonight!"

Thanks Vern! Can't wait to read your thoughts:)


Rowena Libby wrote: "Another winning review, Rowena. Added this one to my shelves. : )"

Thanks Libby! Hope you enjoy it:)


Rowena Lynne wrote: "I love the review Rowena and particularly the writing style."

Thanks so much, Lynne :)


Rowena Cheryl wrote: "Great review, Rowena! Love how you captured Balawayo's themes. Like you, the American immigrant life is near and dear to my heart and now I must read this:)"

Thanks Cheryl! I think you'll enjoy it, especially given our chats about Africa and the immigrant experience.


Rowena Heather wrote: "Now I can't wait to read this. I can't imagine what this experience must be like. Unfortunately, many people don't bother to consider it at all."

Very true, Heather. So many paint illegal immigrants as bad, evil people when the majority are just people who haven't been given many chances in life and are desperate.


Rowena Chris wrote: "I have to agree, the second half was what resonated with me as well. In fact, had the whole book been about Darling's experience in America, I would've enjoyed it much more than I did.

Great review."


Thanks Chris,
I wasn't sure I'd like the book much after the first few chapters or so but it definitely picked up in the middle.


Rowena Chaymâa wrote: "You're bringing on a very interesting topic, Rowena. Considering the fact I'm Moroccan (which means African too), I expect the book would affect me in the same way it did to you. Throughout my life..."

Thanks Chaymaa,

For sure, I believe that immigrants from anywhere have it difficult when they immigrate, but it seems (at least from what I say) if you're a visible minority and a non-English speaker it's even harder. We have men here who were doctors back home and work construction or drive taxis here. It's definitely not an easy life to get used to:(


Leslie Reese Rowena, thanks for a great review. I was moved by this book and must say that the Zimbabwean section had a certain "lushness" to it that maybe stemmed from the exuberant voice of a child's kinship with "home"....The United States portion represents facing maturity and seeing the shadow side of a romantic, idealized "American dream". It made me conscious of how disorienting and challenging it has to be to have to learn a whole new way of life with a whole new group of people and not be able to turn back or easily reconnect with your foundation.


message 29: by Chaymâa (new) - added it

Chaymâa Rowena wrote.."

Yes I totally agree with you.

The good side is that there are many immigrants who can succeed in the host country, but those are generally (if not all the time) educated people, or at least, as you said above, people who can speak the foreign language. Personally I’m not–and shouldn't be- against immigration when its main purpose is whether to go to schools/universities or to get a whole new cultural experience. However, when someone has already some problems finding a job or just facing any kind of social/cultural/financial difficulties, then immigration would make no sense. Maybe that was a good option in the fifties, but today everything has changed. If you have any value to add to the host country then you’re more than welcome, otherwise you’ll just suffer. It’s easy math.


message 30: by Chaymâa (last edited Oct 16, 2013 10:13AM) (new) - added it

Chaymâa Leslie wrote: "Rowena, thanks for a great review. I was moved by this book and must say that the Zimbabwean section had a certain "lushness" to it that maybe stemmed from the exuberant voice of a child's kinship..."

And you even get to lose your identity, especially the children of those who immigrated at first. A while ago I read a book - In the name of identity by Amine Maalouf- which deals with this identity's dilemma. It was very interesting and thought-provoking, since it also raised the question of stereotypes in the host country. I'm talking about the case when your origins become like a mirror reflecting the person who you are, which makes you a victim of others mistakes and errors.I would highly recommend the book to you if this subject interests you..


Rowena Leslie wrote: "Rowena, thanks for a great review. I was moved by this book and must say that the Zimbabwean section had a certain "lushness" to it that maybe stemmed from the exuberant voice of a child's kinship..."

Thanks so much, Leslie! I'm glad you enjoyed the book as well. I guess for me I preferred the latter half just because I've read lots of books depicting African childhood, and have even lived it to some extent so I was struck by Bulawayo writing about the African immigrant experience. She did portray the illusion of the American Dream well, didn't she? I'm looking forward to reading anything else she writes :)


Rowena Chaymâa wrote: "Leslie wrote: "Rowena, thanks for a great review. I was moved by this book and must say that the Zimbabwean section had a certain "lushness" to it that maybe stemmed from the exuberant voice of a ..."

So true, Chaymaa. And that's what Bulawayo goes into as well. Even the names immigrants give children change when they immigrate and with that some of the culture goes as well, I think. I've often regretted not having an African name actually. That book looks wonderful, thank you:)


message 33: by Chaymâa (last edited Oct 17, 2013 05:19AM) (new) - added it

Chaymâa Rowena wrote: "Chaymâa wrote: "Leslie wrote: "Rowena, thanks for a great review. I was moved by this book and must say that the Zimbabwean section had a certain "lushness" to it that maybe stemmed from the exube..."

You’re welcome, Rowena. Let me know what you think of it once you read it.

I believe a person like you would never lose her origin identity, even with a foreign name (which I think is cute). I’m curious though to know what African name would you pick if you had the opportunity to name yourself :)


Rowena Chaymâa wrote: "Rowena wrote: "Chaymâa wrote: "Leslie wrote: "Rowena, thanks for a great review. I was moved by this book and must say that the Zimbabwean section had a certain "lushness" to it that maybe stemmed..."

I will do for sure, Chaymaa. I wonder what African name I would choose for myself too, haha! By the way, I really like your name! What does it mean?


message 35: by Chaymâa (new) - added it

Chaymâa Rowena wrote: "Chaymâa wrote: "Rowena wrote: "Chaymâa wrote: "Leslie wrote: "Rowena, thanks for a great review. I was moved by this book and must say that the Zimbabwean section had a certain "lushness" to it th..."

Thank you, Rowena. That’s very kind of you.

So, Chaymâa is an Arab noun which etymologically means “great beauty”. It’s not used as a common word today, though. You won’t hear someone saying: “This girl has a chaymaa” or something like this. There are some Arab names which are common words, like “Kamar” (a feminine name) meaning “Moon” or “Karima” (a feminine name) meaning “Generous” and its masculine version is “Karim”.

I think that's more than what asked for but if you have any kind of questions about this, I’ll be so glad to try answering them. :)


Rowena I think the meaning is beautiful:) Arabic names usually are, in my opinion. I do have another little question: I was wondering about the circonflexe on the "a," how do you pronounce that?


message 37: by Chaymâa (last edited Oct 20, 2013 05:16AM) (new) - added it

Chaymâa Rowena wrote: "I think the meaning is beautiful:) Arabic names usually are, in my opinion. I do have another little question: I was wondering about the circonflexe on the "a," how do you pronounce that?"

I've been thinking how I can clearly explain to you how to pronounce it until I found a little mp3 which says "Samaâ" (meaning "Sky"): http://arabic.tripod.com/sound/arab13...
So, you just need to replace "sama" with "chayma" and you get to hear my name. Back to the cironflexe on the "a", let’s say that properly speaking, it must be on the second "a" but that's how I like writing my name and t that’s how my father did when I was born :). Some girls write it like this "Chaimae", "Chaymae" or "Chaimaa"..


Rowena Oh, I got it! Thanks so much:)


message 39: by Chaymâa (new) - added it

Chaymâa It's all my pleasure :)


message 40: by Christine (new) - added it

Christine I enjoyed your review. I am definitely looking forward to get a hold on my copy from the library soon.


Rowena Thanks so much, Christine! I hope you enjoy it:)


Andrew Nice review! It's funny, I deliberately didn't read your review until I'd finished the book and written my own review, but then came to similar conclusions anyway :-) I agree that the narrative voice was beautiful, particularly in the sections around language. I also found the second half very good, particularly the chapter where the old man tells his story about leaving Zimbabwe and coming to America and everything he's lost along the way. That was heart-breaking and beautiful. I didn't love the ending (or lack of an ending), but the more I thought about it, it seemed true to life.


Rowena Thanks Andrew:) Oh yes, the old man's story was truly touching:( Have you read Americanah? I think they are both similar (ish) stories told by authors with different writing styles.


Andrew No, I haven't read it yet. I loved her previous books, especially Half a Yellow Sun, but have heard mixed things about this one so was hesitating. I see you gave it 5 stars, so perhaps I'll come off the fence!


Thuita Wachira I loved this book. I loved its honesty. I loved that most of it was told from a child's perspective. I loved how simple, gripping and grounded it was.


Rowena Thuita wrote: "I loved this book. I loved its honesty. I loved that most of it was told from a child's perspective. I loved how simple, gripping and grounded it was."

Agreed! In retrospect using a child's voice at the beginning was extremely powerful.


Thuita Wachira I loved this book. I loved its honesty. I loved that most of it was told from a child's perspective. I loved how simple, gripping and grounded it was.


Julia Mukuddem ahhh yes, i finished it last night - very good.


Rowena Glad you enjoyed it, Julia.


Heather I think when you see yourself in a non flattering away as some may have in the second half, it can make you kill the messenger. I saw some of myself, and although uncomfortable and shamed, I hope the book has made me think differently, which is why I rated it as high as I did.


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