We Need New Names

“When somebody talks about home, you have to listen carefully so you know exactly which one the person is referring to”

This week I finished reading NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, at the suggestion of my friend Amy. The book follows a girl named Darling as she grows up in a Zimbabwean township and then moves to Northern Michigan. The struggle to identify with home connected deeply with me. Bulawayo’s storytelling is both fierce and poignant, there were several moments where I put down the book because the imagery was so intense. This stuck out:

And when they asked us where we were from, we exchanged glances and smiled with the shyness of child brides. They said, Africa? We nodded yes. What part of Africa? We smiled. Is it that part where vultures wait for famished children to die? We smiled. Where the life expectancy is thirty-five years? We smiled. Is it where dissidents shove AK-47s between women’s legs? We smiled. Where people run about naked? We smiled. That part where they massacred each other? We smiled. Is it where the old president rigged the election and people were tortured and killed and a whole bunch of them put in prison and all, there where they are dying of cholera— oh my God, yes, we’ve seen your country; it’s been on the news.

And when these words tumbled from their lips like crushed bricks, we exchanged glances again and the water in our eyes broke . Our smiles melted like dying shadows and we wept; wept for our blessed, wretched country.”

The book is haunting and requires maturity, but I would wholeheartedly recommend it.


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