Rufaro Gwarada Reviews “We Need New Names”

The British and American editions of NoViolet Bulawayo’s “We Need New Names”
In  her debut novel, We Need New Names, 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing  winner, NoViolet Bulawayo takes us on a journey through Zimbabwe’s Lost Decade  as experienced by 10-year old Darling and her band of mischievous guava-stealing friends, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho, and Stina. Darling guides us along as  she and her friends transition from childhood to adolescence in the midst of a  tumultuous political and socio-economic climate in their home  country.   Chronicling  her own and her community’s lives in Paradise as they yen for an idealized past,  reach for the promise of change, harbor a fragile hope for what could be,  descend into despair, reluctantly accept the status quo, and finally where possible seek an escape, Darling becomes an historian, recording a crucial time  in contemporary Zimbabwean history.  

Utilizing  the innocence and viciousness of child’s play, NoViolet deftly weaves social commentary into Darling’s narration, creating an emotional, sometimes empathetic, and sometimes-visceral connection, between the reader and each  character. Darling and her friends’ daily misadventures in Paradise and affluent Budapest elicit laughter but that laughter is tempered by the fact that their education had unceremoniously been interrupted. Silent eleven-year old Chipo and  her growing belly challenge us as we face incest and child sexual abuse, and yet she carries on playing with her friends.

Darling’s previously absentee father, in a fleeting interaction with Darling and her friends, offers a moving glimpse into HIV and AIDS-related stigma, while the Fambeki prophet, in his finery evokes anger in his unscrupulousness as a religious leader who preys on his oft desperate followers, taking their dignity and money. And how can one not applaud MotherLove’s rejection of voyeuristic NGOization veiled in pity-laced good deeds? Then there is freedom-seeking Bornfree, whose brutal and public murder breaks our hearts, even though we saw it coming.

Circling back to Darling who leaves Paradise for America, we feel her disappointment and longing for home as she finds herself in a place quite different from the one in her imagination, a place where being different and the effort to belong can be painful. We then witness Darling unknowingly become “an illegal” and grudgingly join the millions of nowhere people who straddle two worlds but do not fully belong in either.  So,  while Darling leads us through otherwise heavy subject matter, the dialogue and  interpersonal encounters throughout maintain a light-hearted tone that is  believable and resonates with readers, particularly those who are Diasporans.  Darling no-doubt leaves us with unanswered questions, but I for one hope that perhaps they will be answered in a future offering.

The Reviewer


Rufaro Gwarada is committed to development in Africa that is rooted in gender equality and the  realization of women’s and girls’ rights. She is a consulting content developer and advisor at AfricaSpeaks4Africa, an e-zine showcasing African voices. Based  in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rufaro is interested in neo-Diasporan African  women’s movements and African philanthropy.

  1 comment for “Rufaro Gwarada Reviews “We Need New Names”

  1. March 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Awesome review!!!

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