We Need New Names

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We Need New Names
We Need New Names (Bulawayo novel).jpg
AuthorNoViolet Bulawayo
Publication date
May 2013
Media typePrint, Electronic

We Need New Names is the 2013 debut novel of expatriate Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo. The first chapter of the book, "Hitting Budapest", initially presented as a story in the Boston Review,[1] won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing.[2][3] when the Chair of Judges, Hisham Matar, said: "The language of ‘Hitting Budapest’ crackles. This is a story with moral power and weight, it has the artistry to refrain from moral commentary. NoViolet Bulawayo is a writer who takes delight in language."[4]

A coming-of-age story, We Need New Names tells of the life of a young girl named Darling, first as a 10-year-old in Zimbabwe, navigating a world of chaos and degradation with her friends, and later as a teenager in the Midwest United States, where a better future seems about to unfold when she goes to join an aunt working there.[3]

We Need New Names was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2013),[5] the Guardian First Book Award shortlist (2013),[6] and a Barnes & Noble Discover Award finalist (2013).[7] It was the winner of the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature (2013),[8][9] and won the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for debut work of fiction.[10][11] It won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction (2013).[12]


The novel begins by following a group of mostly pre-teen children - the central character Darling and her friends Stina, Chipo, Bastard and Godknows - living in tin shacks in Zimbabwe after their homes have been bulldozed by Mugabe's paramilitary police. The author gives "a child's-eye view of a world where there is talk of elections and democracy but where chaos and degradation become everyday reality, where death and sickness and the threat of violence lurk" in a shanty town misleadingly named Paradise, where people try to hold on to dignity while families fracture.[3] The children spend their days getting into mischief, stealing guavas from the rich neighbourhood known as "Budapest", inventing a life of adventure and make-believe, daydreaming of enjoying luxury overseas in places such as Dubai and America.

When eventually Darling travels abroad to live with her aunt who is working in Detroit, Michigan, she discovers the many other struggles and stresses to be faced as an African immigrant to the US, including listening to misconceptions about one's land of birth, having to adapt to a new culture, and the fact that there are so many illegal immigrants in the States over whom the threat of deportation looms.[13]


"Bulawayo’s portrayal of Zimbabwe is notable not for its descriptions of Paradise and Budapest but for those of Darling’s interior landscape. ... 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." — The New York Times[14]

"How does a writer tell the story of a traumatised nation without being unremittingly bleak? NoViolet Bulawayo manages it by forming a cast of characters so delightful and joyous that the reader is seduced by their antics at the same time as finding out about the country's troubles. ... Bulawayo has created a debut that is poignant and moving but which also glows with humanity and humour." — The Independent[15]

"What stops the book collapsing under its own thematic weight is a certain linguistic verve, and the sense that this is a really talented and ambitious author who might at any moment surprise the reader by a plot twist, some technical bravura, or a thematic transcendence that will take the story beyond its gratuitously dark concerns to another, more meaningful level. For really, what is the purpose of suffering in literature, especially in a coming-of-age novel, but to serve as midwife to spiritual and psychological growth?" — The Guardian[2]

"Written with kinetic energy that crackles with life, NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel should be read by anyone interested in emerging voices in world literature. At times joyful, funny, melancholic, ferocious, and defiant, Bulawayo’s first-person narrator, Darling, is a trenchant observer of the human condition." — World Literature Today[16]


  1. ^ NoViolet Bulawayo, "Hitting Budapest", Boston Review, 1 November 2010.
  2. ^ a b Helon Habila, "We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo – review", The Guardian, 20 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Margaret Busby, "We Need New Names, By NoViolet Bulawayo" (review), The Independent, 7 June 2013.
  4. ^ "Previous Winners", The Caine Prize.
  5. ^ "We Need New Names", The Man Booker Prize.
  6. ^ Guardian first book award 2013 (15 November 2013). "We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  7. ^ "2013 Discover Awards". Barnes & Noble. 2013. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  8. ^ Ben (23 February 2014). "NoViolet Bulawayo Wins the Inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature". Books Live. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  9. ^ "Etisalat Prize for Literature Announces 2013 Shortlist". Etisalat Prize. 23 January 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  10. ^ Allan Kozinn (17 March 2014). "Writer From Zimbabwe Wins PEN/Hemingway Award for First Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  11. ^ Yvonne Zipp (18 March 2014). "NoViolet Bulawayo wins prestigious Hemingway/PEN award". MLive.com. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  12. ^ Carolyn Kellogg (11 April 2014). "Jacket Copy: The winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are..." LA Times. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  13. ^ We Need New Names at Goodreads.
  14. ^ Uzodinma Iweala, "Difficult Terrain", The New York Times, 7 June 2013.
  15. ^ Leyla Sanai, "Review: We Need New Names, By NoViolet Bulawayo", The Independent on Sunday, 17 August 2013.
  16. ^ Jim Hannan, "We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo", World Literature Today, January 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Arnett, James (2016). "Taking Pictures: The Economy of Affect and Postcolonial Performativity in NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names". ariel: A Review of International English Literature. 47 (3): 149–173. doi:10.1353/ari.2016.0028.
  • Frassinelli, Pier Paolo (2015). "Living in translation: Borders, language and community in NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names". Journal of Postcolonial Writing. 51 (6): 711–722. doi:10.1080/17449855.2015.1105855.
  • Moji, Polo Belina (2015). "New names, translational subjectivities: (Dis)location and (Re)naming in NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names". Journal of African Cultural Studies. 27 (2): 181–190. doi:10.1080/13696815.2014.993937.
  • Musanga, Terrence (2016). "Perspectives of Zimbabwe–China relations in Wallace Chirumiko's 'Made in China' (2012) and NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names". Journal of African Cultural Studies. 29 (1): 81–95. doi:10.1080/13696815.2016.1201654.
  • Ndlovu, Isaac (2016). "Ambivalence of representation: African crises, migration and citizenship in NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names". African Identities. 14 (2): 132–146. doi:10.1080/14725843.2015.1108838.
  • Wilkinson, Robyn (2016). "Broaching 'themes too large for adult fiction': the child narrator in NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names". English Academy Review. 33 (1): 123–132. doi:10.1080/10131752.2016.1153579.

External links[edit]