We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (2013)
 “And when they asked us where we were from, we exchanged glances and smiled with the shyness of child brides. They said, Africa? We nodded yes. What part of Africa? We smiled. Is it that part where vultures wait for famished children to die? We smiled. Where the life expectancy is thirty-five years? We smiled. Is is there where dissidents shove AK-47s between women’s legs? We smiled. Where people run about naked? We smiled. That part where they massacred each other? We smiled. Is it where the old president rigged the election and people were tortured and killed and a whole bunch of them put in prison and all, there where they are dying of cholera – oh my God, yes, we’ve seen your country; it’s been on the news.” 
Darling grows up in a shantytown called Paradise in Zimbabwe. Her family used to be rich, but then lost everything, her father went to South Africa and hasn’t returned, so all Darling has is her group of friends. Then, when she is 10, she is sent to DestroyedMichygen to live with her aunt. Though she gets all the food she can eat and has every Apple product available, she is homesick. 

Darling’s narrative is a delight to read, first of all because it starts out with the voice of small child who doesn’t understand everything she witnesses and then grows until Darling is a teenager who is an expert in American slang. It is easy to follow her narrative and it is an easy read despite the serious topics which are brewing underneath. Although Zimbabwe is never mentioned, it is easy to figure out which country and despot it’s all about. And yet, my favourite part was the American one. It is probably because of the culture crash, and the way she describes the perfect normal life of teenagers.

This book would have dazzled me if it wasn’t for the fact that I have read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie last year. They are very similar in both theme and setting, although Darling is just a kid. They are both great and I recommend them both.


the Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (2006)

This is the sequel to Nervous Conditions and it starts off in Tambu’s second year in secondary education while Zimbabwe is still Rhodesia. Tambu doesn’t fit in anywhere, she is too smart for her family in the village, too European for the other five black girls at the school and the white girls are afraid of touching her. In the second year at the school she witnesses her sister losing a leg at a political meeting back in her village. The war for independence is making Tambu very nervous and she is struggling at school.

I loved Nervous Conditions and Tambu because she was such a strong girl, aiming high and achieving her goals. In the sequel she is completely lost, and cannot even speak up for herself any longer. While Nervous Conditions was all about the family, the sequel is more focused on the political background. And I missed the family, especially her uncle’s family.

I’m waiting for the next book about Tambu to be written as it simply cannot end this way.


Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)

Tambu is not sorry for that her brother died. Because his death means that she can go to the mission school as she is the oldest girl. She also moves away from her life as a peasant and to her uncle’s house at the school. Her uncle is the head of the family as he is educated by the whites and the headmaster at the school and therefore rich. Tambu is eager to begin her new life as an educated girl and leave her old life as a poor peasant behind.

Tambu is very bright and resourceful and is doing everything in her power to achieve her goals. Because her parents only could afford to send one child to school and because she was a girl and her brother not, he was sent. Realising how important education is, she plants her own crops and sells them in order to pay for her own education. And when her brother dies and she finally can go to a better school, she studies hard to be one of the best in her class so she can get scholarships to go on to higher education. But she also realise that being educated means leaving her peasant identity behind, no longer staying in touch with her family and culture. But she also discovers that being educated means having other troubles.

This book made me realise how important education is, having taking it for granted all these years. Such a wonderful book about and Tambu is definitely a heroine. I’m very tempted to break my self-imposed no-more-new-books-until-2011-rule to buy the sequel with the curious title the Book of Not: Stopping the Time.