We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo
‘We Need New Names’ is the fictional debut novel from NoViolet Bulawayo, expanding on her Caine Prize winning short story ‘Hitting Budapest’. It begins following the plight of ten year old Darling, who lives in a shanty-town called ‘Paradise’ in Zimbabwe amidst an environment of violent political unrest. With no school to go to and left to their own devices, Darling and her friends spend their days playing games and stealing guavas to satiate their ever present hunger.
The dream of escaping their impoverished living conditions for foreign lands comes true for Darling who is sent to live with her aunt in the United States in Detroit, Michigan. The country of abundance, however, turns out to be vastly different to what she imagined it would be. Experiencing displacement in the new land and struggling to fit in in unfamiliar territory, Darling finds herself longing for familiarities from home.
Bulwayo’s unique style of writing is refreshing, exhibiting a rawness and vibrancy through rhythmic language in the descriptions of grave situations and events told from a child’s perspective. A highly original and excellent debut.
The Round House - Louise Erdich
The story of ‘The Round House’ takes place within a Native American Ojibwe community in North Dakota. Following the assault and attempted murder of his mother, thirteen year old Joseph sees the normality of his family life shaken apart.
Complications of conviction arise as a result of the crime having been committed on the grounds of the titular building, the ceremonial Round House, which sits within a complex patchwork of land divided into tribal, federal and state territories.
The failure of the justice system sees Joseph and his friends go in search for the perpetrator seeking retribution and justice for the horrific crime. Through comradery and friendship, the surrounding community and extended family come together to heal seemingly irreparable wounds.
Featuring characters from her previous novels, ‘The Round House’ is a memorable read and a most deserving winner of the US National Book award.
‘The Son’ by Philipp Meyer, is a gripping multigenerational family saga detailing the history of the McCullough family, from the mid 1800’s to the present day. Set against the backdrop of the American southwest, the novel follows the stories of three family members; the Patriarch, Eli, also known as ‘The Colonel’, his son Peter, and his great-granddaughter, Jeanne Anne. The narratives centered on each are weaved together throughout the book seeing the family story unfold as the novel progresses. Beginning with the kidnapping of Eli and his brother by the Comanches, through to the events surrounding the empire of wealth built by his descendants as a result of the acquisition of land and oil, the storyline keeps its momentum from start to finish.
At heart ‘The Son’ is a chronicle of the history of the State of Texas, expertly told by Meyer through cleverly crafted narrative voiced by an interesting ensemble of characters. Covering the conflict for land ownership, wealth and power, graphic descriptions of brutality and violence seep through the novel, reflective of a bygone era.
One of the most captivating and exciting reads I’ve come across this year so far, ‘The Son’ does not disappoint, possessing all the makings of a classic novel. I was hooked from the beginning to the very last page.
Julian Barnes’ latest literary offering is divided into three parts, combining historical account, fictionalized event and personal memoir. Barnes highlights the unpredictability of life in his written contemplation on relationships, from the factors and events bringing two people together and the joy experienced, through to the immense sorrow felt when circumstances unexpectedly change. Connecting stories of 19th century balloon travel and photography with love and grief, Levels of Life is beautifully written and deeply moving in its heartfelt honesty. Highly recommended.
The Fields, by Kevin Maher, tells the story of 13 year old Jim Finnegan, the youngest child and only boy in a large, Irish Catholic family household. Set in Dublin in the mid 1980s, the book sees the adolescence of the lead character coming to an abrupt end following the arrival of the new Parish priest, Father O'Culigeen. Whilst dealing with ongoing abuse and a terminal illness in the family, Finnegan is able to find happiness amidst the turmoil with the older, Saidhbh Donohue. The two begin an intense relationship, which despite the joys of first love, is not without its troubles.
Maher manages to mix humour in with the heavy themes of the book. The comical accounts of chaotic family life offer moments of most welcome respite from the confronting subject matter. An impressive fictional debut, The Fields is a well written and engaging read.
‘Woolgathering’ features a collection of short autobiographical pieces by the intriguing and multifaceted artist - musician, poet, photographer and author - Patti Smith. It was originally published by Hanuman books as a part of a series of small format publications, released in the 80s and 90s, showcasing the written work of many well known and influential artists, writers and poets. The new hardcover reissue by New Directions has the inclusion of additional written pieces, as well as photographic imagery by Smith, which is found interspersed throughout the text.
Recalled memories, gleaned from her childhood and years spent in New York, are presented as beautifully written pieces of dreamy, poetic prose. Smith’s evocative descriptions provide a strong sense of place, people, object and experienced emotion. As a fan of both her music and photographic work I enjoyed it immensely.