We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

68.Noviolet-Bulawayo-We-Need-New-NamesDate Read: June 28th 2015

Published: June 2013

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Pages: 290

 

 

The Blurb

Darling and her friends live in a shanty called Paradise – which of course is no such thing. It isn’t all bad, though. There’s mischief and adventure, games of Find bin Laden, stealing guavas, singing Lady Gaga at the tops of their voices.

They dream of the paradises of America, Dubai, Europe, where Madonna and Barack Obama and David Beckham live. For Darling, that dream will come true. But, like the thousands of people all over the world trying to forge new lives far from home, Darling finds this new paradise brings its own set of challenges – for her and also for those she’s left behind.

 

Review – ★★ (2 stars)

NoViolet Bulawayo’s short story, “Hitting Budapest” rightly won the Caine Prize in 2011 and this story is actually the first chapter of her novel, We Need New Names. I remember back in 2013, We Need New Names was very popular but I was obsessed with Adichie’s Americanah so I was in no rush to indulge in Bulawayo’s book at the time. Also, some friends who read the book told me that We Need New Names was boring, and now I understand where they were coming from.

We Need New Names is a coming-of-age story about a ten year old Zimbabwean girl named Darling and her life in the shanty town, ironically called Paradise; as well as her life in the USA after she escapes political violence to reside with her aunt Fostalina, in Michigan. Readers are introduced to Darling’s friends who also live in Paradise: Chipo (an eleven year old who is pregnant with her grandfather’s child), Sbho, Stina, Bastard and Godknows. It was quite heartbreaking to read on how Darling and her friends searched for guavas to satisfy their perpetual hunger. On the other hand, it was humorous to witness Darling and her friends argue and quarrel over trivial matters as they embarked on their adventures and games.

But to be honest, after the third chapter I was tired of the shanty life storyline. There seemed to be no plot in this novel and I was struggling to enjoy the story. I started to enjoy We Need New Names more once Darling moved to Michigan (which happens after page 150). But some stuff Darling was getting into after she moved to the U.S was absurd to me, for example, her keen interest in watching pornography with her friends. That part of the book was awkward and probably unnecessary…

Towards the end of the book, I was sick of the plethora of stereotypes NoViolet Bulawayo dumped onto the pages. In Zimbabwe, all the people and the living conditions in the shanty town were heavily stereotyped. The poverty-porn in this book is so blatant it almost seems intentional. I know poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor is terribly wide in Zimbabwe, but the lack of a solid plot in this book made it hard to ignore the excessiveness of the sad living conditions. All the people Darling encountered in Michigan were stereotyped too – especially Mr. Eliot’s (her aunt’s former employer) daughter who just had to be white, rich, spoiled, in an Ivy League school, had an eating disorder (bulimia), was depressed and had a cute dog that donned designer-dog fashions. Why did the people Darling encounter have to be tagged with all the stereotypes associated with their race, sexual orientation, nationality?

We Need New Names has been translated into many languages! Check out the book covers below.

My favorite chapter is entitled, ‘How They Lived,’ where NoViolet Bulawayo speaks generally on the African immigrant experience in the West. It seemed pretty spot-on and I enjoyed the commentary on the struggles Africans face in raising their kids abroad, naming their kids, sending money back to family in Africa, assimilating etc.

I have a feeling this book was nominated for several awards because this is what the West loves – to read a story on African struggles with excessive stereotypes (this is just MY opinion!). Don’t get me wrong, there is a uniqueness to this book, especially in the writing style. I wouldn’t say this was written ‘beautifully’ as everyone claims, but it is surely unique.

I commend NoViolet Bulawayo for using her native language (I’m assuming it’s Shona) in many parts of the book. Words in Shona and native slang are not italicized or defined at the back of the book – readers have to decipher on their own what ‘kaka’, ‘tikoloshe’ and other native Zimbabwean (slang) words mean, and I love that. I also enjoyed how Darling’s english changed from her time in Zimbabwe to her stay in the U.S. Since Darling is the narrator of this story, the diction in the book gradually changes from broken Zimbabwean-English to ‘Standard’ English, as Darling starts to sound more ‘American’ in her speech. It was amusing (even though I was cringing) to read on how Darling would practice her American accent by imitating the pronunciation of words from the television shows she watched. Other than that, this book was a struggle for me to get into and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot! If I wasn’t buddy-reading this with a friend, I would have given up after the first 30 pages.

Other African literature book bloggers loved this book! Mary of Mary Okeke Reads and Osondu of Incessant Scribble enjoyed We Need New Names. Check out their reviews to get more positive perspectives on this novel.

This was not my cup of tea, but it might be yours! Give it a try if you don’t have anything else to read.

★★ (2 stars) – Thumbs down.

Purchase We Need New Names from Amazon

Advertisements

And the 2015 Caine Prize winner is…

Its that time of year again! In about two weeks, the 2015 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include:

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000)– author of novels Minaret, Lyrics Alley amongst other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002)– founding editor of Kwani?, author of novel, One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay “How To Write About Africa” found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003)– author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel, Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names

This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented young writers with unique short stories (left to right):

caine prize for african writing 2015

  • Elnathan John (Nigeria) for “Flying” in Per Contra (Per Contra, International, 2014)
    Shortlisted in 2013 for “Bayan Layi”
    Read “Flying”
  • Masande Ntshanga (South Africa) for “Space” in Twenty in 20 (Times Media, South Africa, 2014)
    Read “Space”
  • Namwali Serpell (Zambia) for “The Sack” in Africa39 (Bloomsbury, London, 2014)
    Shortlisted in 2010 for “Muzungu”
    Read “The Sack”
  • Segun Afolabi (Nigeria) for “The Folded Leaf” in Wasafiri (Wasafiri, London, 2014)
    Caine Prize winner 2005 for “Monday Morning”
    Read “The Folded Leaf”

(The biographies for the shortlisted candidates can be found – here).

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that this year’s countries shortlist was more of a dichotomy between Nigeria and South Africa. I expected a more diverse pool of stories to enjoy. But hey! Its the stories that matter, right?

I read Namwali Serpell’s story ‘The Sack‘, as it is one of the short stories in the Africa39 anthology that I own. I don’t know how I feel about her story…It’s a little confusing to me! From what I gather, the story is about the protagonist (I don’t know if this is a boy or girl) having nightmares about being killed, while the men he/she lives with use a young black orphan to go fishing and later debate whether the orphan should live with them or not. There also seems to be a feud between the men in the house, as one is elderly and seems to be sick and grumpy. Humph! If anyone has read the story and understands it, please do explain!

My favorite story so far is ‘Flying’ by Elnathan John. ‘Flying’ is how a short story should be: simple yet moving. The story is about Tachio – a JSS3 (9th grade) dorm leader of a refuge home/school, who believes he can fly once he falls asleep. This feeling of flying brings him peace and joy. He shares his joy of flying with his friend Samson, but is deemed mad. Once Tachio tells foul-mouthed Aunty Ketura, who is the founder of Kachiro Refuge Home, she appreciates his belief of flying and assumes Tachio was a bat, vulture or eagle in his past life. Since Tachio is the dorm leader, he frequently cleans Aunty Ketura’s office and later finds the drawer where she keeps all the records of the boys and girls in the home. Finding out that some of his friends were initially found near trash cans, in market places and in toilets, makes Tachio (who was born in a hospital) feel like he has an edge over his classmates who have no idea of their origins. The story ends with the sudden death of Aunty Ketura, which shocks the whole school, especially Tachio. But the strange presence of a big brown chicken with a limp on their school compound gives Tachio solace, as he believes Aunty Ketura has been incarnated into this bird.

Elnathan’s use of metaphors in comparing human appearances to animals gave the story some spice. I mostly appreciated how readers can get the full scope of Tachio’s wavering feelings of being a dorm leader, wanting to be mischievous with his friends, to wanting to please Aunty Ketura, seeking advice and comfort from Aunty Ketura etc. I’m yet to read the last three stories on the shortlist, but ‘Flying’ is the most enjoyable story to me thus far. It’s simple, understandable and moving.

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced on the 6th of July at the Weston Library, Oxford, England. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

And the 2014 Caine Prize winner is… Okwiri Oduor!

A big congratulations to Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor for winning the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing!!

Okwiri Oduor is the 15th winner of the Caine Prize, which is recognized as Africa’s leading literary award for short stories.

The winner was announced last night at a dinner held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England for all the shortlisted candidates.

Okwiri Oduor won the £10,000 prize for her short story, ‘My Father’s Head’. In the short story, the narrator deals with the loss of her father and tries to recollect buried memories of him. Even though the story is laden with issues of loneliness, mourning and sadness, its actually quite moving and has a courageous outlook on loss/death. Oduor is currently working on her debut novel and I can’t wait to read more of her work in the near future!

Okwiri-oduor-caine-prize-review-father-head-e1399954921586

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Read ‘My Father’s Head’ by Okwiri Oduor – here 

 

And the 2014 Caine Prize winner is…

In less than a week, the 2014 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include:

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000)– author of novels Minaret, Lyrics Alley amongst other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002)– founding editor of Kwani?, author of One Day I Will Write About This Place and other essays such as “How To Write About Africa” found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003)– author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of novel, Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of novel, We Need New Names. 

This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five amazingly talented young writers with unique short stories (L -> R):

caineprizeauthors-770x375

  • Diane Awerbuck, from South Africa. Read her story “Phosphorescence” here. Listen to the story here.
  • Tendai Huchu, from Zimbabwe. He’s also the author of novel, The Hairdresser of Harare (on my To-Read List!). Read his short story “The Intervention” here. [I couldn’t find the audio for Huchu’s story!] 
  • Efemia Chela, from Ghana/Zambia. Read her story “Chicken” here. Listen to the story here.
  • Billy Kahora, from Kenya. Read his story “The Gorilla’s Apprentice” here. Listen to the story here.
  • Okwiri Oduor, from Kenya. Read her story “My Father’s Head” here. Listen to the story here.

(The biographies for the shortlisted candidates can be found – here)

It was refreshing to see a Ghanaian on this year’s shortlist. Since I’m Ghanaian I’m naturally rooting for Efemia Chela. Her short story “Chicken” is a coming-of-age narrative. The story consists of three vignettes. In the first vignette, the protagonist who is at an awkward stage in her life- in her twenties, reflects on her extended African family and the meal they shared commemorating her successful graduation from university. Chela’s description of food in this story is so vivid, it makes your mouth water!

In the second vignette of the story, the protagonist gives an account of a recent sexual encounter (with a female). In the third vignette she tries to decide what path she is to take in life- whether to become a lawyer as her parents suggest or to follow where her heart leads. Chela’s writing style is heavily descriptive, but not a drag at all! I appreciated her unique style of narrating. It suited the awkward, twenty something year old coming-of-age theme!

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced on the 14th of July in Oxford, England. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

Voice of America: Stories by E.C Osondu

VOA

Date Read: April 30th 2014

Published: October 25th 2011

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Pages: 216

The Blurb

E.C. Osondu is a fearless and passionate new writer whose stories echo the joys and struggles of a cruel, beautiful world. His characters burst from the page—they fight, beg, love, grieve, but ultimately they are dreamers. Set in Nigeria and the United States, Voice of America moves from the fears and dreams of boys and girls in villages and refugee camps to the disillusionment and confusion of young married couples living in America, and then back to bustling Lagos.
Written with exhilarating energy and warmth, the stories of Voice of America are full of humor, pathos, and wisdom—an electrifying debut from a winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing.

Review – ★★ (2 stars)

I bought Voice of America: Stories because Osondu’s story “Waiting” won the Caine Prize in 2009 and I found it very touching. I wanted to read more of his work and I’m satisfied with my overall reading experience of this book.

But most of the short stories (set in both USA and Nigeria) were lackluster. I found issues like childless marriages, arranged marriages, kidnappings and fraud cliché with the plethora of African novels on the market on immigrant experience in the West. I’m used to short stories being extraordinary, shocking, disheartening, exhilarating- not simply okay, as with this collection of short stories.

My favorite story was:

“A Letter From Home”- a hilarious letter that a nagging Nigerian mother writes to her adult son in the United States, demanding extra monetary support and discussing the future bride she found for him.

Other stories had hilarious bits as well, but were still quite lackluster for me. Voice of America: Stories is a pleasant read, but not on my highly recommended list.

★★ (2 stars) – Thumbs down. I do not recommend this.

Purchase Voice of America: Stories on Amazon