By: Jowena Qwabe
I pick it up and I read it. I like it, sometimes I love it and sometimes I don’t. It is a love story when I do, the butterflies, the kindness outside myself constantly worrying about the characters. It is a yearning… that moment between a kiss that has lasted too long and a touch that just came at the right time. A sunrise. NoViolet Bulawayo has managed to do just that with the book entitled “We need new names”. A reminder of how important it is as Africa to read our own literature, amazing how a book about the coming of age could mean to someone who had convinced themselves they had long passed that stage.
The story opens at a squatter-camp ironically named “Paradise” as we are introduced to characters such as Stina, Chippo, Bastard, God-Knows and Darling (the antagonist) who gradually remind us what it meant to be kids in Africa. From the tree-climbing, the chore that was church and the mysteries of the west. What it meant to truly be a friend, to keep opinions so close to your chest your ribcage could break open just to give them breathe. My favourite part of the book, crazily being the chapter entitled we need new names where a few of the characters try to give Chippo (who is too young to be pregnant) and abortion (that they themselves are too young to understand). Bulawayo uses humour to bring to the table an issue we could not stomach any other way and does not stop even in chapters later.
Because the book is set in Zimbabwe which is only a Limpopo away it feels familiar which made me wonder if that is the reason why so many Zimbabweans immigrate to South Africa. I wondered if we are the closest thing they have to home with the way Bulawayo describes the sky, the social mores, the people and even the squatter-camp we might as well be Zimbabwe extension two. Paradise looks exactly like a squatter-camp a few minutes from the town I grew up it called Mayvillle.
There are a million reasons why you should read this book and if you have, there are a million reasons why you should read it again.
This is what every reader knows… there is nothing as beautiful as finding parts if yourself in another. That is why we read.