This is an unconventionally written book - seemingly on the surface about a kid's world, yet hitting hard in places while seemingly maintaining an irreverence about the extremely prickly issues it speaks about. We’re transported to life in a shanty-town from the view of a young girl and her friends, and how a life which is agonizingly unfair and difficult for an outsider, is looked at by those for whom have to live it themselves, for those for which this is ‘normal’. It’s not a unique narrative style I’m sure, but an incredibly powerful one, one which allows the author to shock and cause us to count our blessings, without ever seeming like sermonising. The protagonist in the second half moves half-way around the world to the United States, to become part of that world of immigrants which then helps us look at the First World from the view of the Third World, and the pains of the immigrant’s journey. Again, not unique – but NoViolet Bulawayo’s style, her characters and her observations make it seem very fresh.
This is also one of those books where the moments stay with you longer than the story. Stealing the shoes of a girl who’s just hung herself, watching a white family being slammed out of their ivory towers, what people at the other side of an NGOs camera feel, what young kids and non-believers would be thinking in the middle of a religious fervour, the attempts at home (field?) abortion, the AIDS, the rape, the political murders, the killing of hope – these parts will haunt and stay for sure. The second half of the book is more reflective – the immigrant’s travails, the WTFness of #FirstWorldProblems and the transition for what once seemed your’s suddenly doesn’t remain so and how you become what you thought you weren’t. I loved this part, I’ve read a lot about the Indian and subcontinental immigrant experience thanks to Jhumpa Lahiri, Sandip Ray, Khaled Hosseini et al..but this – without the papers, the legal status and the complete inability to go home is obviously a different one. It all comes up in a magnificent chapter towards the end titled ‘And how they lived’ which should be worth the price of the book just in itself.
I note the major criticism of the book online is that it takes a checklist of Third-world/Africa issues and ticks them off one by one. Uhh, I think that’s absolutely kaka(!). Those checklists, those lists of horrors exist for a reason – the narrative of the book allows them all to fit in and it is not too difficult to imagine that the protagonist would have had cause to experience them.
PS : I was unable to make up my mind about what I felt about the language. I came about this on the author’s website which seemed so wonderfully apt:)
“Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard of things with it” Chinua Achebe
Bulawayo is a masterful storyteller. With words that resonate the innocent, raw experiences of childhood to the confused maturity of a young person in a foreign land, this tale takes you on an emotional dune ride. The narrative is fearless, hilarious, poignant and often visceral, with many sparkling passages that jump out at you -- the kind that you can't help but share with the person sitting next to you. Two thumbs up!
It's a well-written book. Love the cultural nuances, the interactions that happen between the protagonist Darling and her friends, love the analogies. The book's power is its simplicity. A must read for anyone away from home.