2013 Booker Prize

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names Shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: shanty, dream, challenges, America, new

We Need New Names begins in Zimbabwe where 10-year-old Darling is living in a shanty town. She manages to stave off her hunger pangs by stealing guavas from the homes of rich, white people. Things look as though they might improve with the fall of white supremacy, but life for the children only becomes more harrowing. Eventually Darling manages to escape to America and the book shows how she adapts to life in a very different culture.

Unfortunately I had mixed feelings about this book. Darling’s narration was compelling, but I’m afraid the immigrant story has been done many times before and this book failed to add anything new to the genre. I found myself losing interest in Darling’s story once she’d left Africa and wish the story had concentrated on those left behind.

The book had many fantastic scenes and I especially liked the subtle way that the horrors the children faced were woven into the text. This innocence and simple acceptance of events kept the mood light and entertaining, despite the starvation, child pregnancies and murder.

The book also covered many bigger, global issues, but, although dressed in childhood charm, I occasionally felt that Darling’s comments were too wise for her age:

If you’re stealing something it’s better if it’s small and hideable or something you can eat quickly and be done with, like guavas. That way, people can’t see you with the thing to be reminded that you are a shameless thief and that you stole it from them, so I don’t know what the white people were trying to do in the first place, stealing not just a tiny piece but a whole country. Who can ever forget you stole something like that?

Overall this was a book of two halves. The first half was a refreshing new voice in African fiction; the second an average repeat of an over-told story. I’m not convinced it deserves a place on the Booker shortlist.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 ….no one captures the simple wickedness of children better and this book is cruel and cutting in all the right places. Bookslingers

….the book could have been a bit more polished but everyone got something out of it… Bookfoolery

NoViolet Bulawayo has created a fictional world that stuns as it captivates. The Bowed Bookshelf



2000 - 2007 Historical Fiction Other Prizes Recommended books

Sweetness in the Belly – Camilla Gibb

 Finalist for the 2005 Giller Prize

I hadn’t heard of this book, but during a discussion on Canadian literature Claire recommended it and kindly lent me her copy.  I’m so pleased that she brought it to my attention as it was a fantastic read.

Sweetness in the Belly is set in Ethiopia, Morocco and England. The main theme of the book is identity and what it means to be accepted in a community, but this book looks at things from a slightly different angle to other books on immigration.

The central character is Lilly, born to white British parents keen to explore the world. From birth Lilly travels the globe with them, but at the age of eight her parents are killed in Morocco, leaving Lilly to be brought up at a Sufi Shrine. This leads Lily to become a devout Muslim. Political unrest in Morocco forces her to leave the country as a teenager and so she heads for the Ethiopian holy city of Harar. She eventually finds a place for herself in this ancient walled city, but the start of Mengistu’s reign of terror leads her to return to London, a country that feels very alien to her.

It sounds as though I’ve just told you the whole plot, but we learn these facts quite quickly. The book flips forwards and backwards in time, showing us Lilly’s life in each country. It was fascinating to compare the traditions of each country and to learn a bit more about the terrible situation in 1970s Ethiopia. (I first learnt about of Mengistu’s reign of terror by reading Cutting for Stone earlier this year.)

“There is never anything about Ethiopia,” he laments as we watch the world morphing before our eyes. “It is as if it does not exist.”
“Ethiopia doesn’t matter to the West,” I say, stating the obvious. “We offer them nothing they can exploit.”
This has proved both a blessing and a curse. We can feel proud that Ethiopia resisted Europe’s colonial overtures, but then we have to accept that the country does not exist in the European imagination as anything but a starving, impoverished nation with just about the highest rates of infant mortality, the lowest average life expectancy and the lowest rates of literacy in the world. As a story of famine and refugees.

I loved Lilly’s character and was touched by the difficulties she faced. Sweetness in the Belly was easy to read, thought provoking and became gripping as it progressed.

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves epic tales of love and loss and those interested in cultural identity.

Have you read anything written by Camilla Gibb?

I loved this book and so plan to seek out as many of her books as I can.

Which ones do you recommend?




Brixton Beach – Roma Tearne

Brixton Beach is a difficult book to rate. It has a fantastic opening chapter and a powerful, poignant ending, but unfortunately the rest of the book is a bit forgettable.

The book opens with an emotionally charged glimpse at the London tube bombings of 2005 in which 56 people were killed. I wasn’t surprised to see a quote from Chris Cleave on the back of the book (‘Heartfelt and timely’) as the opening chapter was reminiscent of his wonderful book, The Other Hand.

Unfortunately, the plot went downhill very quickly. The second chapter was so quiet in comparison that I was left feeling a bit let down and lost. The setting changed to a quiet Sri Lankan village and followed a young girl as she grew up. The fact that her father was of Tamil descent meant that her family was threatened by violence and so they decided to emigrate to the safety of London. This whole section was OK, but I have read about the difficulties of immigration so many times that I have lost interest.Well someone found in a situation like wise they should contact with Las Vegas immigration lawyer cause they can handle the things wisely. This book didn’t offer any new insights on the situation, despite the fact that Sri Lanka isn’t a country I’ve read about before. By Going Here you will get the best immigration attorney. Ask about his/her background with your specific situation, outcomes in those cases, and for references from previous clients and other immigration attorneys. Don’t assume that all lawyers know immigration law, because most don’t. It’s a very specialized niche practice. Someone with a general law practice probably does not have sufficient immigration experience – this is a practice area for specialists. Unless you are appearing in immigration court defensively, you should pay a flat fee, rather than hourly.  Las Vegas employment immigration lawyer helps you in the immigration attorney. Don’t assume that a big firm means competence with immigration. Outside of business immigration (my specialty), the most competent immigration attorneys tend to work in small- or mid-sized firms. Don’t assume that an attorney who speaks your language is competent. A lot of shoddy lawyers prey on the inherent trust of their ethnic or language communities. Get a second opinion – it’s worth another consultation fee.

The plot picks up towards the end and you can guess that the story goes full circle, returning to the terrible events on the London tubes. The ending was emotional, but I was disappointed that I’d had to wade through 350 pages of slow moving plot to get there.

On a positive note, the writing was of good quality, so I would be tempted to read another one of her books – I just hope they are more like the first chapter of this one than the middle 12!

Recommended to anyone who loves tales of immigration.

Did you enjoy this book?

Have you read any of her others?

Are you looking forward to the release of her new book, The Swimmer, at the end of April?