WE NEED NEW NAMES
Regan Arthur Books
$25.00 hardcover, available now
Rating: 2.75* of five
The Publisher Says: A remarkable literary debut -- shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize! The unflinching and powerful story of a young girl's journey out of Zimbabwe and to America.
Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.
But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America's famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo's debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her-from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee-while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.
My Review: Okay.
Someone please, I implore you, please sit down in front of me, where I can see your lips and hear your words, and in short, simple, declarative sentences, please please oh please explain to me how the Booker people could NOT shortlist TransAtlantic, an amazing novel by an amazing writer, but CAN shortlist a novel with this in it:
I don't like going to church because I don't really see why I have to sit in the hot sun on that mountain and listen to boring songs and meaningless prayers and strange verses when I could be doing important things with my friends. Plus, last time I went, that crazy Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro shook me and shook me until I vomited pink things. I thought I was going to die a real death. Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro was trying to get the spirit inside me out; they say I am possessed because they say my grandfather isn't properly buried because the white people killed him during the war for feeding and hiding the terrorists who were trying to get our country back because the white people had stolen it.Gosh, never heard that before. Never thought of telling a story about an African country's poverty from the PoV of a child before. Why no, it's just unique and unprecedented.
And it's not like it's ever been done before, even Dave Eggers (not a favorite of mine) did it in What is the What, and then there's Say You're One of Them...but what is that objection falling from your lips, those are BOYS telling their stories, not GIRLS telling theirs?
Which is it, all experience is human, or gender creates a special and different relationship to the world? Both cannot be true. Think carefully before answering that question, because one answer makes a chink in the armor protecting a very very very touchy equality argument....
But each experience of the world is unique! All should be celebrated! Uh huh. So you'll be buying a Joyce Meyer book about how she survived incestuous sexual abuse by the healing grace of gawd through Jeebus. Oh no? Too white-church-lady conservative, all because a Man helped her find resolution and a measure of peace because a girl can't do it herself?
What happened to all experiences being celebrated?
The above roughly encapsulates a call-and-response session I had with a fan of the book. She (naturally) stated I was behaving in a sexist manner and implied, with dark tones of voice, that I was probably a racist too, because I don't think this is a particularly good book, and *certainly* don't think it's Booker-worthy.
This is not a long book, and it's not, regardless of the cover, the title page, and the sales bunf, a novel. It's interlinked short stories that share a background. The author has used a rather flat, matter-of-fact tone to deliver her stories, and that's just fine for a story in a collection. It's wearing as hell when it's the ONLY tone used. It does not lend itself easily to a smooth, page-turning read. It required of me that I expend mental effort to stay engaged for the ~10-12pp the story lasted.
Now that is something, laddies and gentlewomen. In only 12pp, an author can make someone who has spent most of his life (48/54 years) reading and savoring many, many kinds of books by every conceivable terrestrial human phenotype feel the need to force his attention back to their work.
I certainly didn't hate the book, and I don't think the author should be put in the stocks thence to learn the error of her ways. I dislike the book, yes, but I commend the person who struggled to bring it forth and make it as good as she possibly could imagine it being, for doing the work, making the effort, creating an artwork that rings true in her ears.
I assume many agree with her. I am not one. I think it's a decent first book. I would pick up another book of NoViolet Bulawayo's to sample, if I happened across it. Contrast this with my response to that Purple Bruise and Yellow Sun woman Chimamanda What's-it: how fast can I run, how far can I hurl, how hard can I stomp the next and the previous books she's written.
But this isn't a particularly good book simply because it's not horrible. If you find my copy on the train, pick it up and idly leaf through. Maybe you'll like it, because goodness knows I didn't.
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