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From the Lips of Children

A Reflection of NoViolet Bulawayo's 'We Need New Names'

By Wilson GeraldoPublished 7 years ago 3 min read

"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise'?"

Matthew 21:16 NIV

As Americans, generally speaking, we are accustomed to having our basic needs met. Food, water, and electricity, are things that we expect to have. Even the poorest of the poor have cell phones, and access to some kind of help and shelter if needed. We are indeed living in a great and prosperous country. However, our prosperity has come at a great price for many of the citizens of non-western countries. In NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, we get a real sense of the impact of western colonialism and global capitalism on Africa, specifically Zimbabwe, through the eyes of Darlene, a young Zimbabwean girl, as she and her young friends try to make sense of the tragedies that they witness, in the wake of political change and turmoil.

Bulawayo's novel is an example of the importance of literature, as Hisham Matar says, through literature, we get “a glimpse across the limits of our self.” Elements of the story remind me of my days as a youth, growing up in North Philadelphia. Much like the kids in the story, we played similar mischievous games, and with our childish wisdom, which we received from television, and the grown ups around us, we had our own understanding of the world. One scene that struck me was when the kids were playing ''Country Game," a game they made up when they were bored. In the game, the western countries are the "county countries," the big boys on the block, so to speak. Juxtaposed to countries like Congo, Somalia, and Haiti, they are considered to be "terrible place[s] of hunger and things falling apart"(Bulawayo 51). Through the simplistic language of a young girl, and the town’s kids, the game is a reflection of the geo-political state of the world. Through the narrative, Bulawayo is critical of some of America’s aggressive ways. She writes, "If I'm lucky, I get to be the USA, which is a country country; who doesn’t know that the U.S.A is the big baboon of the world?"(Bulawayo 51) In other words, America is looked as the bully on the block. She also makes subtle yet biting commentary on America's involvement with the wars in Africa through a kid’s game. She writes, "We are quiet as graves, sad like the adults coming back from burying the dead. Then Bastard says, "Let's go and play war, then we take off and run to kill each other with our brand-new guns from America"(Bulawayo 59). A sad image as the cycle of war and death continues through learned behavior.

In addition to these important topics, Bulawayo touches on religion, and the local spiritual system as well. For example, Mother of Bones is a reference to the voodoo religion associated with the African tradition of ancestral worship. Furthermore, she questions Christian ideology through the narrator’s simple innocent reasoning. She writes, “Me and Mother of Bones will head off to church. She says it’s the least we can do because we are all dirty sinners… but what I know is that I myself wasn’t there when it all happened, so how can I be a sinner”(Bulawayo 21). Indeed, from the “lips of children,” comes jewels of wisdom.

In conclusion, Bulawayo’s first novel is thought provoking and heartbreaking at the same time. The tragic lives of the characters in the story is what makes them wise. The heartbreaking part is that no child should have to live that way. In the end, through literature, we get to peek at lives completely different from ours and then return to our regular lives unscathed, yet with a greater perspective.

Works Cited

Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names. New York Boston London: Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Print.


About the Creator

Wilson Geraldo

Wilson Geraldo is a graduate from the Community College of Philadelphia. He has his degree in English, and Creative Writing. His work has been published in CCP's Limited Edition magazine.

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