This gut-punching foray into witness literature is a step away from the typical fantasy-and-horror fare this blog deals in. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo is an award-winning fictional account of a young girl’s journey from refugee to exile.
Title: We Need New Names
Author: NoViolet Bulawayo
Genre: Literary Fiction, Witness Literature
Publisher: Black Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 2013
We meet Darling as a carefree 8-year-old living in a shantytown refugee camp in her native Zimbabwe. She spends her days playing with her friends and stealing fruit from yards in the nearest town. Slowly, we see the unveiled horrors of her daily life colored with a child’s naiveté and misunderstanding. Eventually, she breaks free and flies to America, where she is struck with a different but no less traumatic series of challenges.
This Book is For you If…
This book is based on the true events of the Zimbabwean Diaspora, sometimes called the “Lost Decade.” Thousands fled desperate, unsafe, and unequal living conditions, but were never fully recognized as refugees by the international community because “most were not fleeing individual persecution.” If you are interested in expanding your horizons and delving into an underreported aspect of modern history, you could not find a better read.
Despite the weighty subject matter, Darling’s tale is told with a strangely light gallows humor that underscores the resiliency of the people who survive such times.
The real strength of Ms. Bulawayo’s writing is the strong voice. Told as a memoir or extended interview, the reader comes away with a sense that, yes, this is exactly how we imagine Darling would talk. I cannot give the depth of the immersion this creates justice. This is a powerful book.
This Book May Not Be for You If….
As I said in my intro, this is not the secondary world, speculative fiction I usually hawk. If you can’t step outside of that bubble, then keep browsing… but I would encourage you to stop. Man cannot live on sword-and-sorcery alone.
The content is heavy, raw, and visceral. It contains mature language. If that is a deal breaker for you, this may not be your cup of tea.
The reader should be aware that in real life fairy-tale endings are rare. So it is with this book. In my opinion, this is a strength, underscoring the narrative’s unapologetic realism, but your mileage may vary.
Where Can I Find More?
As always, you can find more at NoViolet Bulawayo’s Amazon Page, but this is the only book she has written. You may be better served to check out this interview with the author on the Between the Covers podcast.