We Need New Names (Bulawayo)

We Need New Names 
NoViolet Bulawayo, 2013
Little, Brown and Co.
296 pp.
ISBN-13: 978

Shortlisted, 2013 Man Booker Prize

The unflinching and powerful story of a young girl's journey out of Zimbabwe and to America.

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America's famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.

NoViolet Bulawayo's debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her—from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee—while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Tsholotsho, Zimbabwe
Education—B.A., M.A., Texas A&M; M.F.A., Cornell University
Awards—Caine Prize for African Writing; National Book Awards
   "5 Under 35" Award
Currently—lives in California

NoViolet Bulawayo (pen name of Elizabeth Zandile Tshele) is a Zimbabwean author and Stegner Fellow at Stanford University (2012–2014).

NoBulawayo was born and raised in Zimbabwe and attended Njube High School and later Mzilikazi High School for her A levels. She began her college education in the US, studying at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English from Texas A&M University-Commerce and Southern Methodist University respectively.

In 2010, she completed a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Cornell University, where her work was recognized with a Truman Capote Fellowship.

NoViolet's short story "Hitting Budapest" won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing. Her other work has been shortlisted for the 2009 SA PEN Studzinsi Award, and has appeared in Callaloo, The Boston Review, Newsweek, and The Warwick Review, as well as in anthologies in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the UK.

Her 2013 novel entitled We Need New Names was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. This makes her the first black African woman and the first Zimbabwean to be shortlisted for that prize.

She has begun work on a memoir project. (Adapted from Wikipedia and the publisher Retrieved 10/29/2013.)

Book Reviews
[D]eeply felt and fiercely written…the voice Ms. Bulawayo has fashioned for her [narrator, Darling] is utterly distinctive—by turns unsparing and lyrical, unsentimental and poetic, spiky and meditative…Using her gift for pictorial language, Ms. Bulawayo gives us snapshots of Zimbabwe that have the indelible color and intensity of a folk art painting…Ms. Bulawayo gives us a sense of Darling's new life [in the United States] in staccato takes that show us both her immersion in and her alienation from American culture. We come to understand how stranded she often feels, uprooted from all the traditions and beliefs she grew up with, and at the same time detached from the hectic life of easy gratification in America.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

Bulawayo describes all this in brilliant language, alive and confident, often funny, strong in its ability to make Darling's African life immediate without resorting to the kind of preaching meant to remind Western readers that African stories are universal, our local characters globalized, our literature moving beyond the postcolonial into what the novelist Taiye Selasie has best characterized as Afropolitan…Bulawayo is clearly a gifted writer. She demonstrates a striking ability to capture the uneasiness that accompanies a newcomer's arrival in America, to illuminate how the reinvention of the self in a new place confronts the protective memory of the way things were back home.
Uzodinma Iweala - New York Times Book Review

[T]he first half of the book...is a remarkable piece of literature. Ten-year-old Darling is Virgil, leading us through Paradise, the shantytown where she and her friends...live and play.... Abruptly, Darling lands with her aunt in America.... [She] may not be worse off, but her life has not improved.... Bulawayo’s use of English is disarmingly fresh, her arrangement of words startling.
Publishers Weekly

As Bulawayo effortlessly captures the innate loneliness of those who trade the comfort of their own land for the opportunities of another, Darling emerges as the freshest voice yet to spring from the fertile imaginations of talented young writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Dinaw Mengestu, who explore the African diaspora in America. —Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Estero, FL
Library Journal

In Bulawayo’s engaging and often disturbing semiautobiographical first novel, 10-year-old Darling describes, with childlike candor and a penetrating grasp of language, first, her life in Zimbabwe during its so-called Lost Decade and then her life as a teenager in present-day America.... Ultimately what lingers is Bulawayo’s poignant insights into how a person decides what to embrace and what to surrender when adapting to a new culture in a new land. —Donna Chavez

A loosely concatenated novel in which Darling, the main character and narrator of the story, moves from her traditional life in Zimbabwe to a much less traditional one in the States.... In America, Darling must put up with teasing that verges on abuse and is eager to return to Zimbabwe.... Bulawayo crafts a moving and open-eyed coming-of-age story.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. As the novel opens, we see that Darling is living in a close knit community of extended family members and friends. When she moves to Detroit, Michigan, she lives in a smaller family unit, and perhaps a more conventional one. Does living with fewer people in probably more middle class circumstances give Darling a more intimate family life? Or was her family life in Zimbabwe more supportive or affirming for her? What are the advantages of living in a more open community like the community Darling is born into in Zimbabwe, and is it possible for us to achieve that kind of family structure here in the U.S?

2. When Darling is living in America, she Skypes with Chipo, who tells her that she can't refer to Zimbabwe as her country anymore. Do you think this is a fair accusation? Does Darling owe anything to Zimbabwe? And is she still entitled to a sense of ownership over the place she left behind?

3. How do Bulawayo's descriptions of Zimbabwe diverge from other portrayals of Africa? In some of the tragic moments in the book—for example, when Darling and her friends try to remove the baby from Chipo's belly—there are unexpected moments of levity. Does Bulawayo's method of depicting tragedy make the harrowing elements resonate with you in an unexpected way? In recent years, elements of the media, such as video games and movies, have been taken to task for possibly desensitizing us to tragedy. Do you think that is true? What role does literature play in how we experience and understand global tragedy and other cultures? How does Darling's voice contribute to that picture for readers?

4. Despite living in poverty, a world away from American culture, we see through the lives of Darling and her friends that lots of American pop culture makes its way firmly into the imagination of these young people—from Beyonce to McDonald's to the television show ER. Did that surprise you? How do you see pop culture moving from the U.S. to Zimbabwe? How are Darling's ideas about American pop culture affirmed or challenged when she arrives in Detroit?

5. The scene in which the aid workers visit Darling's village gives insight into the sometimes dehumanizing impact of charity: "The man starts taking pictures with his big camera...they don't care that we are embarrassed by our dirt and torn clothing...we don't complain because we know that after the picture-taking comes the giving of gifts." How did this passage make you feel? If this scene were written from the point of view of the aid workers, how do you think it would be different? What role does our intention play when we contribute to charitable causes?

6. How do you think your country of residence affects the way you read and interpreted this novel?

7. The title of the book refers to the choice that many immigrants make to give their children names that, as Darling says, "make them belong in America." How important is a name? How much weight do names hold in your family or in your culture?

8. In what ways does America change Darling's personality? Is America the reason for this shift or is it Darling herself? Does your personality change depending on where you are or who you are with?

9. How would your reading experience have been different—and how might the power of Darling's message have been affected—if the novel hadn't been written in her voice? Are there places you think you would have understood more about the story? What did Darling's particular voice bring to this story that might not have been achieved another way? What role did her voice play in establishing the moments of humor and cultural insight in this story? The prose is also full of deliberate misspellings and phonetic language—like "destroyed" Michigan. What did those choices reveal to you about Darling's experiences?

10. Since the novel's publication, NoViolet Bulawayo—and other writers published around the same time, like Taiye Selasi who wrote Ghana Must Go and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie who wrote Americanah—have fielded questions about being labeled as "African writers." Africa is a diverse and vast continent, and yet we oftentimes lump these writers together. Is that fair? When asked about the label, Bulawayo said, "For me, I always insist that I am an African writer because it's true; I am an African. I feel that even if I deny that label, my work will scream otherwise." She added that her aesthetics and themes were all inspired by Africa and its modes of storytelling, including the oral tradition. Do you agree, or disagree, with Bulawayo?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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