Some short stories are self-contained wonders with no room for improvement, where tinkering would be akin to tampering. Others are fine as working miniatures but hint at better things if spread out on a greater canvas. NoViolet Bulawayo’s short story ‘Hitting Budapest’ was published in the Boston Review and won the Caine Prize for African Writing. Bulawayo clearly looked to her laurels, realised her tale had legs and fleshed it out into a debut novel. We Need New Names is the result. Having secured a place on the Booker shortlist (the first black African woman to have ever made the cut), the novel could well be a prize-winner like the story that spawned it.
‘Hitting Budapest’ is the book’s first chapter, one which wastes no time in providing key characters and bearings. Our narrator, ten-year-old Darling, lives with her friends Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Stina in an African shantytown called Paradise (later it is implied we are in Bulawayo’s native Zimbabwe). None of