Palimpsestic homescapes: Home and (un)belonging in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names
Since the turn of the 21st century, the experiences of transnational postcolonial migrants have become the concern of a growing number of African novels that thematize trans-border migration using diverse postmodernist narrative techniques. In this paper, I examine the use of the palimpsest as a literary device to (re)conceptualize home and belonging in the award-winning debut novel of Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo titled We Need New Names (2013). Bulawayo, like the female protagonist of the novel, was born in Zimbabwe and migrated to the United States as a teenager, a fact that invests her fictional narrative with autobiographical symbolism. Using critical narrative analysis and drawing on Salman Rushdie’s (1991) notion of ‘imaginary homelands’, I argue that Bulawayo represents home and social belonging through the narrative layering of spaces, memories and experiences across borders and times. On the one hand, the analysis reveals strong links between Bulawayo’s conception of homeliness and her portrayal of space within familial, communal and national frames. On the other, it foregrounds the salience of national identity and culture to the diasporic sense of (un)belonging and home. In these ways, Bulawayo’s imaginative narrative illustrates the important ways in which recent African novels perform the psycho-social complexities of postcolonial and postmodern trans-border migration.
Key terms – home, belonging, migration, diaspora, palimpsest, border, Zimbabwe, NoViolet Bulawayo