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Mary Corrigall Reviews We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New NamesVerdict: sticky carrot

Noviolet Bulawayo looks as if she is preparing to attend a funeral. In a black dress and jacket and wearing a grave expression, she strides along the pool outside a Rosebank B&B to meet me on the veranda.

Her demeanour matches the bleak heaviness that pervades her first novel, We Need New Names, which deals with Zimbabwe in a state of “falling apart” and the pains and struggles of living in exile in the US. To say it has been well-received is an understatement; it’s the first Zimbabwean novel to crack the Man Booker short-list, making her the first black African woman to have received this accolade.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    October 23rd, 2013 @11:07 #

    Interesting review - good notes about the book, but always find it difficult to read a reviewer questioning an author's "validity".

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    October 24th, 2013 @15:14 #

    I also wonder about this - the tone of the review is strange, and it's certainly a political review: a suggestion that the author is hamming it up (distorting') contemporary Zim to fit in with prevailing fashion, maybe? I have no problems with political reviews, if they're well done; but in this case I do think there's evidence (from other black Zimbabwean authors, just for a start) that NoViolet Bulawayo hits the nail on the head about the 'abnormal everyday' (in Rita Felski's term) in which Zimbabweans live at present. I think this distorts the reviewer's reading of the novel - to me it was the second section that felt more contrived, just for a start. (In the first, along with the humour there are brilliant juxtapositions, even if NB does cram issues in somewhat).
    There's also a weird structure of mirrors at work here - a white reviewer, at a distance, questioning the 'distortions' of a black Zimbabwean's work, because they don't match either the reviewer's viewpoint or the author's biography, which she suggests is at a distance. A fruitless chase after 'reality', in a country which has been a source and object of disinformation for a long, long time.
    Don't be fooled - this is a pretty good novel. Read some of the others as well by other Zim writers, if you can - A Harvest of Thorns, The Non-Believer's Journey, Bones, Echoing Silences, The Stone Virgins, etc etc.


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