I find myself enthusiastic about this novel. Told almost as a series of short stories (but cohesive enough to be a novel in my mind), this is the story of 11 year old Darling, a resident of a Zimbabwean slum called "Paradise." Darling's voice is fresh, playful, and wise - and although her life intersects with many "political" topics, both in Zimbabwe and then later as an American immigrant, those issues mainly take a back seat to Darling's personal experience.
The first half of the novel follows Darling through her exploits with her preteen friends in Zimbabwe. Darling's life intersects many big picture issues in Zimbabwe, poverty, race, revolution, AIDS, evangelical Christianity, etc., but we only hear about them as a backdrop to the games and exploits of the gang of friends. Darling is more focused on the practicalities of her life - the intricacies of the rules of the various games invented by her friends, where she will find more guavas to eat to stave off hunger, interactions with her family members and neighbors, and her daydreams of one day joining her Aunt in America.
One thing I loved about this book is the loved the rich vivid metaphor that laces NoViolet Bulawayo's storytelling:
Then MotherLove stands beside this giant poster of Jesus and starts singing. At first there is this hush, as if people don't know what music is for, but then they start swaying. Soon they are gyrating and twisting and writhing and shuffling and rocking. MotherLove's head is tilted up like she's drinking the stuffy air, her eyes closed. Her mouth is open just a little, you'd think she didn't even want to sing, but her voice is boiling out of her and steaming up the place.
I also appreciated the message of the story, especially as we follow Darling to America. Darling has much to say about the ranks of "illegals," working in America and the heartbreaking reality of being without a country to call home. I'm not surprised this one didn't ultimately win the Booker this year, but I'm very grateful to have read it.