21 December 2013

We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo

Some readers will be thrown, I think, by the loose structure and lack of a clearly mapped narrative arc in this book. It's not exactly a collection of vignettes, or moments: it's more like, stuff is happening. The book begins in Zimbabwe (though I might only know that from blurbs -- I'm not sure you ever learn in the book itself?) with a girl named Darling describing her adventures with her friends. Then, she goes to America, to Michigan. The novel feels like a work with strong links to an oral tradition, not only in the style -- a chapter might begin with "So I asked my aunt..."" for example -- but also because it's evoking a world, and a character, rather than circumscribing a specific event, or organizing a plot. It's a wonderful read because it so compellingly and successfully captures Darling's voice, and its subtle shifts over time, not because it delivers some kind of message, or even story. It manages to be a vivid examination of a character's state of being without any of the usual conventions of psychological inquiry we are used to. A remarkable book, definitely worth reading.

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