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We Need New Names

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  15,627 ratings  ·  2,092 reviews
An exciting literary debut: 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 Before. Before their homes were destroyed by
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Hardcover, 298 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Reagan Arthur Books
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Popular Answered Questions
Ty-real - Full disclosure: I've not read this book, but nonetheless felt that there are a huge amount of assumptions in this questions that need to be…more- Full disclosure: I've not read this book, but nonetheless felt that there are a huge amount of assumptions in this questions that need to be challenged.-

"A 4 or 5 star book should get just about everything perfect."

Lot of assumptions to unpack here - what a 4 or 5 star books looks like varies per person, and frankly, a numerical grading system is limited when dealing with a target that isn't measurable by strict criteria. Reading most certainly is not this.

Hell, what look likes a 4 or 5 star book has changed for me over last few years, and will no doubt continue to do so.

Your statement not only assumes some kind of universal arbiter, but also assumes that your opinion is very much in-step with said universal arbiter.

People can value different things in reading - realistically, using some kind of numerical scale is a comparative, so they are rating the book in comparison with other books they've read. In no sense is other people's literary experiences a uniform thing.

" This book got a few things very right, but alot of other things were below average."

You know, there's nothing wrong with putting this opinion to people who do like the book, and trying to engage them on that level. Helping them see your perspective and vice versa. Just vaguely asserting this is true about the book isn't a great start.

"Wondering why it's so hard for us readers to be "critical" in the best sense of the word?"

Honestly, I wouldn't even be answering this if it wasn't for this sentence. So now you've asserted a standard that you think everyone should hold books to, and vaguely dismissed the novel itself, now you're using this as a basis to suggest people aren't reading correctly. Reading correctly, of course, seems to be implied that it should be read in the way you read it.

(I also balk at the idea that reading "critically" just involves identifying what worked for you and what didn't. Surely looking at the context of the novel, the way parts of the novel interact with other parts, how it plays against the lit' history it's playing off of and so on.)

Apologies if this seems a little blunt! There's every chance you just need to clarify some of what you were saying with this question, but as it's written I couldn't help but, well, be a bit critical of the way you framed things.(less)
Hilary Lang Greenebaum Completely. I went back and reread the last chapter thinking I had missed something. No I had not, but I did miss something: A way of thinking about…moreCompletely. I went back and reread the last chapter thinking I had missed something. No I had not, but I did miss something: A way of thinking about her future and not just a "drop kick" event (no spoiler here!)(less)

Community Reviews

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3.72  · 
Rating details
 ·  15,627 ratings  ·  2,092 reviews


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Rowena
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-lit
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
Samadrita
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
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Richard Derus
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
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Paul Bryant
Sep 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
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
Mary
Sep 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, africa, 2016
I don’t think I’ve ever rated a book based mostly on its second-last chapter, but I think that’s what I did here. For the majority of this book I thought it was an average read. The first part with the child narrator in Zimbabwe was ok, but so scattered and not overly interesting (how many times can the kids steal guavas, eat guavas, get constipated from guavas?). It felt like a bunch of observations and anecdotes, some standalone short stories even, not really a cohesive novel. Then the child i ...more
Paul
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars rounded up.
I had read mixed reviews of this novel with comments focussing on it being disjointed or running through a ticklist of African problems to squeeze in them all. Some have taken issues with the first half of the book, some with the second half.
It is the story of Darling; she is born in Zimbabwe and in the first part of the book she is ten years old. Darling and her gang of friends Chipo, Godknows, Bastard, Stina and Sbho, do pretty much what children left to their own device
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Rick Riordan
Nov 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Margitte
Darling is a dispossessed soul in conflict with everything she ever knew. She grew up in Buluwayo, Zimbabwe, but never really names the country or its leader until in her acknowledgement at the end of the book.

In truly picturesque prose Darling shares her memories of violence, pseudo-religious events headed by Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro on the mountain, and numerous incidences of hunger, and the joy of their childhood games like 'Catching Osama Ben Ladin", 'Country-game" and "Vasco
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Moses Kilolo
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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Trish
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
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Maxwell
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it, 2016
2.5 stars
I'm really sad because this book started off with so much promise, but it completely lost me in the second half. My main issue with this book is that Bulawayo didn't leave the reader with any ideas to develop on their own. She uses her characters as mouthpieces for her ideologies--not that I disagree with any of her statements--which makes for a rather pedantic piece of fiction. If I had wanted these themes & messages delivered in the way she delivers them, I would've read some non-
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Elyse Walters
Sep 23, 2013 rated it liked it
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 friends...community...are still her home. It's what she knows.

During the s
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Tinashe Mushakavanhu
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
variety.

NoViolet Bulawayo harnesses all her creative energy and formidable
command of craft to produce a debu
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Ellie
Darling is 10-she lives in a shantytown in Zimbabwe. Like any child, she plays with her friends but their games are fraught with danger. They are surrounded by violence that can explode at any time. Just a few years earlier, Darling lived in a real house and her parents had good jobs. Now the political situation has changed and their homes were bulldozed and they were forced into this makeshift village.

But Darling is going to leave-she has an aunt in the United States ("Destroyedmichygan"). And
...more
Yasmin
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 uncle...as soon as their stories began they ended. Enjoyed reading about the cultural, food, family, childre ...more
Antonomasia
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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Tania
Mar 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
There are times, though, that no matter how much food I eat, I find the food does nothing for me, like I am hungry for my country and nothing is going to fix that.

3.5 stars. I loved that the kids in the story were typical kids and just adapted to their circumstances and kept on playing their made-up games. The author definitely has a sense of humour and you can see this in the names she chose for these kids (Bastard, Godknows etc), but this was still a very dark and unsettling book. Darling (the
...more
Cheryl
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Zanna
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: g-african-reads
It took me almost to the end to get my interpretation of this book straight, since I was thrown off the scent by a snippet of praise from Peter Godwin "NoViolet Bulawayo is a powerful, authentic nihilistic voice - feral, feisty, funny". I haven't read Godwin's book so to me he is just some white guy, and I've gotta say I hate the gendered word feisty which is supposed to mean 'spirited' but throws off sexual connotations and also 'feral' which means wild like a free undomesticated animal and in ...more
Mocha Girl
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Julie
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Heather Fineisen
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Britta Böhler
More a collection of stories and scenes than a straightforward novel but Darling's voice is bold and convincing (stronger in the Zimbabwe-part than after she has moved to the US).
Julie Christine
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
...more
Friederike Knabe
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, african-lit
[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
Sonja Arlow
3 stars
The writing was something else!

The first 50% that deals with Darling and her friends (Bastard, Godknows, Bornfree etc) was amazing. I absolutely loved it and I think if you have a connection with Zimbabwe or Africa you will probably, like me, have a deeper connection to the story. I saw a lot of hidden meaning in what these kids saw, told and played.

They run wild every day in their shanty town, stealing guavas from the rich houses, playing games like Find Bin Laden with no idea what th
...more
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

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
...more
☕Laura
Jul 24, 2013 rated it liked it
I thought the writing in this book was often lovely, and the author did a good job of allowing Darling's voice to mature as she grew up. I very much enjoyed the insight into Darling's childhood in Zimbabwe and was glad to be able to gain some understanding of the history of this nation. However, overall I felt like the book tried to do too much in too few pages, touching on as many issues as possible, including poverty, oppression, race relations, AIDS, incest, illegal immigration, assimilation, ...more
Lorena
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Este libro es maravilloso, no se qué más decir...el capítulo titulado "Cómo vivían" es sobrecogedor y consiguió impulsar este libro y convertirlo en una de las mejores lecturas del año. Estoy deseando que la autora publique más novelas, este es un comienzo increíble pero se nota que es un debut.
Cynthia
Sep 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...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
“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.”
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“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.” 38 likes
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