African Voices: NoViolet Bulawayo

African Voices: NoViolet Bulawayo

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, We Need New Names is a coming-of-age debut by NoViolet Bulawayo from Zimbabwe. It is beautifully narrated by 10-year-old Darling and for this reason alone, it is on the new Planetfem Must Read list.

NoViolet is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and was awarded the Pen/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction.

We Need New Names was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2013 and is divided into two parts. In the first, Darling narrates her childhood in Zimbabwe.The second is all about her life and transition to America. Darling has a gang of mates with cool cool street names — Chipo, Godknows, Sbho, Stina and Bastard. These kids live their childhoods against the violent and often desperate backdrop of  Zimbabwe. Be prepared to cry, have your heart ripped out and handed back to you.  These children find horror on the streets: a woman hanging from a tree, yet hunger overtakes horror and they decide to sell her shoes for bread. Then there’s the classic conversation with the foreign volunteers about Africa, typical Western Africa;

“And when they asked us where we were from, we exchanged glances and smiled with the shyness of child brides. They said, Africa? We nodded yes. What part of Africa? We smiled. Is it that part where vultures wait for famished children to die? We smiled. Where the life expectancy is thirty-five years? We smiled. Is is there where dissidents shove AK-47s between women’s legs? We smiled. Where people run about naked? We smiled. That part where they massacred each other? We smiled. Is it where the old president rigged the election and people were tortured and killed and a whole bunch of them put in prison and all, there where they are dying of cholera – oh my God, yes, we’ve seen your country; it’s been on the news.”

Young Darling gets a ‘lucky’ escape to the U.S. to live her aunt and the rest of the book tells of how difficult it is for her to settle in this new western land and leaves the reader wondering which life was, in fact, better.

But mostly, be prepared to think about stereotypes, equality, social ideals but mostly, what truly brings us happiness.

photo credit: Youtube

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