Bulawayo is a young writer born and raised in Zimbabwe who speaks with an authentic voice about her country and the United States her adopted country. "We Need New Names" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Pen Hemingway award.
The story begins in Zimbabwe, post-revolution, and about half of the novel takes place there. In this part of the book, Bulawayo speaks with her strongest voice. The reader meets Darling, a young girl and the narrator of the story. She and her educated family have been ousted from from their homes and relocated in a town of small tin shacks called Paradise. Here she roams freely with her childhood friends, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows,Sbho and Stina. The children have their own set of rules; their favorite place to go is the rich suburb, a mixture of wealthy blacks and white colonials. Here they steal guava fruit from the abundant gardens of the city they call Budapest. Darling and her friends have made up fantasy names for their environs and beyond. These children, disadvantaged and dirt poor, are children of the modern age. They know pop culture; they have been exposed to movie stars and rockers through the internet and t.v. They know where the wealth lies, and they have been exposed to the horrors of AIDS, disease, murder, and warfare. They see the Chinese move in and create factories and begin yet another cycle of colonial overlords.
Darling eventually leaves all this behind to live with an Aunt in Detroit which she and the children call Destroyedmichygen. The second half of the book, not as interesting and less colorful than the first, tells us of Darling's adjustment to modern living and her disenchantment with American culture. She often longs for her African life and the dichotomy of both extreme poverty, yet the freedom to roam at will, denied to her in America. Her aunt is married to a Ghanaian man whose culture is quite different than Darling's family, a reminder of the diversity of cultures in the different African nations.
There are many terrific young writers coming out of Africa. Darling's observations of America, seen through her juvenile eyes, are quite different than those experienced by the older narrator in the novel, "Americana," though both authors have emigrated from Africa. NoViolet Bulawayo speaks with a clear authenticity and, at times, a brilliant voice.