We Need New Names, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (2 ratings)


* Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013** US National Book Award 5 Under 35 ** Winner of the Etisalat Prize 2014** Winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award 2014* * Winner of a Betty Trask Award 2014* `To play the country-game, we have to choose a country.

Everybody wants to be the USA and Britain and Canada and Australia and Switzerland and them.

Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti and not even this one we live in - who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart?'Darling and her friends live in a shanty called Paradise, which of course is no such thing.

It isn't all bad, though. There's mischief and adventure, games of Find bin Laden, stealing guavas, singing Lady Gaga at the tops of their voices. They dream of the paradises of America, Dubai, Europe, where Madonna and Barack Obama and David Beckham live.

For Darling, that dream will come true. But, like the thousands of people all over the world trying to forge new lives far from home, Darling finds this new paradise brings its own set of challenges - for her and also for those she's left behind.


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Review by

Darling and her friends Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Stina roam the streets of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, getting handouts from the NGO lorry and searching for ripe guava in the gardens of more prosperous suburbs. The shanty town that they come from, Paradise, does not have gardens of fresh fruit: it has tin-roofed one-roomed shacks with no running water or sanitation. There are no schools any more as the teachers have not been paid and have fled to more prosperous countries: any one who can leaves to find a country where it is easier to stay alive. Even the children play the country game as they dream of where they will live:<I><blockquote>But first we have to fight over names because everyone wants to be certain countries, like everybody wants to be the U.S.A. and Britain and Canada and Australia and Switzerland and France and Italy and Sweden and Russia and Greece and them. These are the country-countries. If you lose the fight, then you just have to settle for countries like Dubai and South Africa and Botswana and Tanzania and them. These are not country-countries but at least life is better than here. Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti, like Sri Lanka, and not even this one we live in -- who wants to be in a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart.'</blockquote></I>Gradually it becomes apparent that the children have not always lived like this: they once had proper brick houses with bathrooms and TVs and proper furniture; some them had parents who had been to university; they had bicycles to play with outside. And then the government bulldozers had come and bulldozed their houses and everything in them, and the children were left with Paradise...The first half of this book is definitely the strongest, when the imperfect understanding of the children brings to life the horror of the day to day existence. But as Darling's dream comes true and her Aunt Fostalina takes her to the United States to live the book seems to lose something of its focus. Throughout the book has a slightly loose structure, but this seems to loosen further once Darling is in U.S. so that it becomes a series of rather disjointed episodes. And while overall it has some interesting things to say about the differences between the reality of life in a new country and the expectations of those who remind behind in the old, it seemed to do so on a quite superficial level. Overall, while an interesting read, I'm a bit surprised it made the Booker shortlist.

Review by

A powerful in your face tale of refugees and migrants told through the eyes of a child. The first part of the book, set in Africa- seemingly Zimbabwe, works better than the 2nd part when the main protagonist, Darling, moves to the US. Some light and shade would help the audience of this story teller- perhaps the novelist found it difficult to distance herself sufficiently from real events

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