We Need New Names

We Need New Names Summary and Analysis of Destroyedmichygen, Wedding, and Angel



Suddenly, Darling is living in "Destroyedmichygen" (149) with Aunt Fostalina, Uncle Kojo, and TK, her cousin. She reflects on Aunt Fostalina coming to Paradise to get her and taking one last picture of her with her friends. Darling observes the strangeness of America; for example, she does not understand snow and thinks it is silly for Aunt Fostalina to walk in place to keep up with something she is watching on TV. She tells a darkly humorous story in which her mother took her to Vodloza the healer a few days before she left. Vodloza tied a bone on a rainbow-colored string to her waist as a weapon to "fight off all evil in that America" (152); Darling told the people at the airport that she had a weapon after setting off the metal detector and Aunt Fostalina threw it in the trash.

Uncle Kojo is also critical of Aunt Fostalina working out, but he specifically critiques her thinness, saying it is not African to look like this and that she shouldn't be following the ideals of the non-African women on the television. Uncle Kojo also spends a lot of time watching television; he watches sports when he comes home from work. Through a scene of Uncle Kojo watching sports, Darling reveals that Uncle Kojo is from Ghana and that TK was born in America to Uncle Kojo and another woman. TK does not like to interact with Darling and instead plays video games in his room by himself.

Darling spends a lot of time talking about the snow and the cold, which prevent her from playing outside. She misses her friends, but she likes that she has enough food to eat. Aunt Fostalina's cousin Prince also comes from Zimbabwe and stays at the house for two weeks before moving in with his brother in Texas; he has burn scars and looks very old and tired. Uncle Kojo tells Aunt Fostalina that she needs to cook more hot meals for him, which angers both Aunt Fostalina and TK. Darling and the family watch Barack Obama become president, which makes Prince cry. TK eats and eats and Darling watches children play in the snow. Prince polishes his wooden animals and talks to them.

Time passes and the snow starts to melt; Fostalina continues caring for Darling, asking her if she wants food and if she is ready to go outside. Prince talks to himself more and more and sometimes has fits of screaming and kicking. Darling thinks that when it warms up a bit more, she will go out and explore Detroit, but she remembers that Stina told her that a country can disappoint you and that when you come back to a country you've left behind you can be like a ghost. The time Darling enjoys most is when other people from Zimbabwe come over to the house. They speak her language, talk loudly, cook traditional foods, and dance energetically to familiar music.


Darling and Aunt Fostalina's family drive to a wedding in Indiana. They get lost on the way and Uncle Kojo gets fed up with the electronic navigator and stops using it. Aunt Fostalina does not realize what is happening because she is asleep in the passenger seat, so they keep driving down long roads edged with corn. Darling narrates about joining Washington Academy, where people teased her a lot at first, but they switched targets when a new boy showed up. They call him a "freak" (168), a word Darling must look up on the internet, and find he has hung himself at the school a week later. Uncle Kojo tells Darling to keep an eye out for the wedding hall and she sasses him and suddenly a deer runs out in front of the car, causing them to crash into it and waking up Aunt Fostalina. Aunt Fostalina is immediately panicked because of the crash, and then she becomes angry that they are somehow an hour and a half late for the wedding already. Aunt Fostalina makes calls for directions and they get back on the road. TK plays a prank on his father in which he says that the police are following them but not to look back, which makes Darling laugh but angers Uncle Kojo even more.

They finally get to the wedding of Dumi, a man Aunt Fostalina used to date. She has prepared a lot for the wedding, even taking Darling to help her find a new dress and losing weight specifically to fit it. Dumi is marrying an obese white woman. Dumi's parents and family couldn't come to the wedding because they couldn't get visas, so messages from them are read and translated, though the translator leaves out quite a bit. While she is in the bathroom, Darling overhears a conversation in her language about the overweight bride; one woman suggests that Dumi is marrying her for "papers" (175). When the women leave, Darling comes out to wash her hands and is engaged in conversation by a white woman who wants to hear her speak her language and talks about how beautiful and terrible things are in Africa. She tells Darling that her daughter, one of the bridesmaids, is in the Peace Corps; she has been to South Africa and is soon going to Rwanda. She talks about how helpful her daughter was and how many great pictures she took, reminding Darling of the people from the NGO. Back in the wedding reception, an old man named Tshaka Zulu is singing a traditional song and many are recording it on their phones. Darling is hungry but she still doesn't eat much in public because she doesn't use cutlery well, even after living in America for some time. She watches Uncle Kojo eat and talk comfortably with someone else from Ghana.

At one point in the reception, Dumi comes over holding a little boy. He talks to Aunt Fostalina, calling her Fee, and then they sit happily in silence together, which makes Darling uncomfortable. Dumi finally introduces the boy as Stephanie's son Mandla. The boy squirms to be let down and then throws the ball he holds at Aunt Fostalina's plate, which Aunt Fostalina does not like but doesn't say anything about. Dumi scolds the boy lightly, but Darling can see that "Mandla is used to getting what he wants" (183), and the boy yells with a strange strength. Mandla throws the ball again, hitting a woman who just smiles, but Darling gives Mandla "a serious eye" (184). Dumi asks Mandla for the ball and Mandla yells that Dumi is not his dad, which causes some people to turn their heads. Then, Mandla throws the ball and hits Darling in the eye and she immediately forgets everything about her surroundings, slapping him three times and hitting him on the head with her knuckles twice. Everyone is immediately outraged, but Tshaka Zulu tries to calm them down by saying "that is just how we handle unruly children in our culture" (185). While Darling feels ashamed, Aunt Fostalina is not angry at her, which Darling attributes to her pleasure at the bride not being beautiful.


One day, Darling tells Aunt Fostalina that she wants to go home and visit her friends, but she pays no attention. Darling laughs with joy while eating a guava that Messenger has brought her when she recently came to America. When she left, Darling had promised to write all the time, but after a few months the communication died out. Even at first, she was not entirely truthful with them, only telling them good things about America. Aunt Fostalina tells Darling that she can't go home because it's too expensive and her visa has expired, which means if she leaves then she cannot come back to America. Darling looks out the upstairs window at the cemetery across the road, where there are sculptures of angels and lots of large gravestones. Darling compares this to Heavenway, the cemetery in Paradise, where you were just buried under "a mound of red earth" (193) with no marker; she says that when she first got to America she thought the cemetery was some kind of museum. She also comments on the smooth roads that stretch over America but won't take her home.

Darling talks about the two homes in her head - her home before Paradise and her home in Paradise. She says there are three homes in her Mother's and Aunt Fostalina's heads - their homes before independence, their homes after independence, and then the homes after the problems, in Paradise and in America; Mother of Bones has four homes including one from back when a king ruled Zimbabwe. Returning to narrate the events at Aunt Fostalina's current home, Darling says that the Zimbabwean president came on the TV in America; Aunt Fostalina turned it off and then Uncle Kojo turned it back on. The president said, "We don't mind sanctions banning us from Europe; we are not Europeans" (194), which Uncle Kojo saluted, saying this president is "the only motherfucker with balls on our continent" (195). TK, now an older, more muscular version of himself, posts this on Facebook later and gets a lot of likes.

Darling has quickly eaten all of her Zimbabwean guavas and mourns the amount of time it may be before she has another. She hears Aunt Fostalina trying to order a bra in the other room, but the saleswoman on the other end of the phone has trouble understanding Aunt Fostalina's pronunciation of the word "angel" (197). Darling empathizes with this, telling the reader about how it feels to stumble through English and about the way she has improved her English by watching television and growing her vocabulary of specifically American words. Aunt Fostalina refuses to order online, so she is forced to spell out the word for the woman on the phone and then immediately after hanging up calls a few of her friends just to have someone to tell the story to in her own language. Finally, she goes downstairs, slamming the door behind her, and Darling knows she is going to practice the entire conversation again in the mirror.


Analyzing Aunt Fostalina's family is in some ways even more rewarding than watching Darling with regard to the ways people blend their identities as American and Zimbabwean/Ghanaian/African. For example, Uncle Kojo's favorite pastime is watching American football, a uniquely American sport and interest, but as he watches he yells at the TV in his native language, which is not the language he would be seeing on the TV or a language he communicates in with anybody at home (since even his son does not speak this language). Their family structure is American in that it is small, the members stay fairly isolated from one another, and they interact using American mannerisms. However, Darling feels most comfortable when her pseudo-extended family, other immigrants from Zimbabwe, are around.

As English is the dominant language in America, including at Aunt Fostalina's house, the specific uses of the family members' native languages demonstrate and shape the relationships the characters maintain with their native lands. For example, Aunt Fostalina switches into her and Darling's native language to sternly finish a conversation, which if compounded over time could demonstrate to Darling that their shared language is a language for times of anger rather than pleasure. However, Darling also notes in herself and others how refreshing it can be to talk to someone in your own language; for example, she watches Uncle Kojo speak his language with another man from Ghana at the wedding, laughing and eating happily, and sees Aunt Fostalina call her friends immediately to talk in her native tongue after having a bad encounter over the phone in English.

The theme of home is perhaps the strongest in this section of the book, as Darling discusses her previous home in Paradise and Aunt Fostalina's house, which Darling doesn't seem to consider a home per se. Bulawayo uses an interesting device through Darling's narration, both allowing her to reflect on the specific lives of her family members and the recent history of Zimbabwe as a whole, writing, "There are two homes inside my head: home before Paradise, and home in Paradise... There are three homes inside Mother's and Aunt Fostalina's heads: home before independence, before I was born, when black people and white people were fighting over the country. Home after independence, when black people won the country. And then the home of thing falling apart... There are four homes inside Mother of Bones's head: home before the white people came to steal the country, and a king ruled; home when the white people came to steal the country and then there was war; home when the black people got our stolen country back after independence; and then the home of now" (193-4). Each of these homes Darling describes is a snapshot in Zimbabwe's political history and its effects on the people of Zimbabwe, and Aunt Fostalina's home is notably missing from Darling's own list at this point.

A parallel of interest in this section is that Darling lives next to a cemetery in both of her major homes in the story - the cemetery called "Heavenway" in Paradise and the American cemetery across from Aunt Fostalina's home in Michigan. Darling tells the reader that cemeteries used to scare her, but being close to so much death makes her not fear them any more. Darling also uses cemeteries as one of many comparisons about the differences in appearance between Paradise and Michigan; while Heavenway had only mounds of dirt to mark graves, Darling at first thinks that the cemetery in Michigan is a museum because of the grandeur of the statues and large gravestones.

The wedding in Michigan is a darkly humorous chapter, full of judgmental characters and cultural snafus. It is suggested that Aunt Fostalina's old boyfriend, the groom of the wedding, is only marrying the bride for a green card, an issue that is brought up rarely in the second half of the book even though the reader gets hints that Darling is staying in the country illegally. Darling is also observant and critical of raising children in America, criticizing how everyone allows a child named Mandla to throw things, even hitting adults without any repercussions. One particularly interesting moment comes when a woman confronts Darling in the bathroom, asking her questions and sympathizing about the state of affairs in Africa (equating all African countries, as Darling notes with regard to a few characters). However, Darling is genuinely surprised when the woman pronounces the name of a place in Africa quite well. It is evident that the woman learned this pronunciation from her daughter, an activist in the Peace Corps, and from this encounter it is clear that some facts about life in Africa can be communicated, making someone like this woman feel knowledgeable and close to the issues there, but true understanding can be much harder to develop.