We Need New Names

Noviolet Bulawayo, Author
NoViolet Bulawayo. Little, Brown, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-23081-0
Reviewed on: 04/08/2013
Release date: 05/21/2013
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The short story that was adapted to become the first chapter of this debut novel by current Stegner fellow Bulawayo won the Caine Prize in 2011, known as the African Booker. Indeed the first half of the book, which follows a group of destitute but fearless children in a ravaged, never-named African country, is a remarkable piece of literature. Ten-year-old Darling is Virgil, leading us through Paradise, the shantytown where she and her friends Bastard, Godknows, Sbho, and Stina live and play. “Before,” they lived in real houses and went to school—that is, before the paramilitary policemen came and destroyed it all, before AIDS, before Darling’s friend Chipo was impregnated by her own grandfather. Now they roam rich neighborhoods, stealing bull guavas and hiding in trees while gangs raid white homes. Darling and her friends invent new names for themselves from American TV and spent their time trying to get “rid of Chipo’s stomach.” Abruptly, Darling lands with her aunt in America, seen as an ugly place, and absorbs the worst of its culture—Internet porn, obscene consumerism, the depreciation of education. Darling may not be worse off, but her life has not improved in any meaningful way. When Bulawayo won the Caine Prize, she said, “I want to go and write from home. It’s a place which inspires me. I don’t feel inspired by America at all,” and the chapters set outside of Africa make this abundantly clear. In this promising novel’s early chapters, Bulawayo’s use of English is disarmingly fresh, her arrangement of words startling. Agent: Jin Auh, the Wylie Agency. (June)
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