Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shelf Life [adult]

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
@ SPL FIC Bulaw

Brilliantly crafted by NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names, stands out as one of my personal favourite reads of 2013. Darling, a young girl living in Paradise, Zimbabwe, narrates the book. She is strikingly honest, lovable and complex and accompanied by a cast of companions including Bastard, Godknows and Chipo. This all sounds lovely, what I have failed to specify is that Paradise is actually a shanty town and Darling and her friends are faced with harsh realities on an ongoing basis including the fact that 11-year-old Chipo is pregnant. Bulawayo touches on deep topics including AIDS, religion, politics, hunger and immigration in a way that is refreshing and, surprisingly, at times quite funny.    

The first half of the book takes place in Paradise where America is glorified, especially by the young people who share a grass-is-always-greener mentality. In the second half of the book, Darling goes to America. The cross-cultural divide is evident as Darling transitions from Paradise to America and gives cause to a critique on the culture we live in. As Darling observes: “When the microwave says nting, fat boy TK takes out a pizza and eats it. When the microwave says nting, he takes out the chicken wings. And then it’s the burritos and hot dogs. Eat, eat, eat. All that food TK eats in one day, me and Mother and Mother of Bones would eat in maybe two or three days back home (156-157). Not only does this physical move mark a change geographically but as a coming-of-age turn of events, whereby Darling’s immigration is reflected in her view of the world and how she perceives herself.

This is your next great read if you are looking for solid, character-driven writing. Nominated for the Man Booker Prize (2013), and well-reviewed in major journals, Bulawayo is a new author with a big future. By the end of the novel I had the lingering aftertaste of ripe mangoes and the fulfillment of a book worth remembering.

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on October 3, 2013. Written by Laura Paprocki, Librarian.

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