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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

We Need New Names

We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo

Occasionally, I come across a book that is difficult for me to say much about. I finish the book, put it aside, scratch my head as I try to piece together what it is exactly I feel about what I just read. Obviously, I didn't love it, but I also didn't hate it. It just didn't resonate with me and I can't say why. We Need New Names was one of those novels for me. The pieces fit for what could've potentially been a great book, but it didn't gel with me.


Bulawayo writes some fantastic prose. She is certainly a talented writer and I expect her to continue garnering attention for her work in the future. I think she has some wonderful stories to tell as well. I think the problem for me with We Need New Names was that I never completely connected with the story or the characters. This may in part be the structure—the “novel” is akin to a collection of connected short stories. It may also be that the novel is essentially two parts—Darling in Africa, Darling in America—and though the two do connect logically, stylistically they are world's apart. Add to this that I never really connected with Darling, though I most felt close to her during her moment's of alienation in America.


So maybe I do know how I felt about the novel, at least in part. Maybe I needed to sit down, contemplate the novel, and write down my thoughts. To make clear my feelings—for my reader as much as myself—We Need New Names shows considerable talent, but the urgency of the work felt buried underneath too many threads. That's why it didn't work for me. Other readers may be able to sort through those threads, make something beautiful out of them. Me, the non-crafty one, I ended up with a beautiful mess of string. My bad.