Chapter 16 to 18 Summary of We Need New Names

Chapter 16 of We Need New Names is the third that enters a more omniscient narration, this time using "we" rather than "they."

We Need New Names Hardcover
We Need New Names Hardcover

Chapter 16 Summary: “How They Lived”

Chapter 16 of We Need New Names is the third that enters a more omniscient narration, this time using “we” rather than “they.” The phrase “we smiled” is repeated many times with reference to people asking about their lives in Africa. This chapter clearly departs from Darling’s life, talking about people who came over on student visas and then worked instead and hid in fear when conversations started about “what to do with illegals.”

People would refer to each other by country rather than by name because they were too hard to pronounce but they would bond across cultures over pictures of worried family members. The immigrants worked terrible, dangerous, low-paying jobs, sending money home and never going to the hospital because they could not. They traveled around the U.S. and took pictures and sent them home and brought more young family members over. They were greedy for news of home when these people would come, and would also be shocked when they called home and new young people answered the phone. Then, they themselves had children, American children, and gave them American names; they promised to bring these children back to their countries to meet their elders, but without papers, these were empty promises. Then the elders died and their children grew up American and Googled their parents’ countries rather than asking for stories. The children grew up and married in the American way and had children of their own and fail to take care of their parents, placing them in nursing homes where they are visited by memories of their own parents. These immigrants die without the proper mourning from their children and so they are not retrieved by the spirits of their ancestors and must wait forever.

Chapter 17 Summary: “My America”

Darling has grown up even more and now works at a grocery store. On this particular day, she is sorting bottles and cans when her manager comes in and compliments her. Darling watches as a thin young woman goes into her manager’s office and then a cockroach crawls out of one of her bottles which she drops with a crash of broken glass while screaming.  After work, Darling waits for Uncle Kojo to pick her up; another employee named Megan who has been working at the grocery store for fourteen years complains to Darling about one of the new workers. Darling thinks about Megan and then about herself growing old working at the grocery store.


When Uncle Kojo comes, they just drive around for a while. When they finally get home, Aunt Fostalina puts out food; she has started cooking again since Uncle Kojo stopped eating after TK left, and she now mostly must cook food from his country to get him to eat. Instead of watching sports, Uncle Kojo now watches only television about the war, looking for TK’s face. Darling has another job, cleaning the house of a man named Eliot. He is a man Aunt Fostalina knows whose previous maid had to go back to Mexico. Eliot introduces Darling to Kate, whom Darling knows tried to kill herself recently at college and has an eating disorder.

We Need New Names
Front cover of We Need New Names

Uncle Kojo picks Darling up from Eliot’s house and they start to drive aimlessly until Uncle Kojo’s phone rings. Aunt Fostalina summons them to Shadybrook where Tshaka Zulu greets them and hands Darling a real spear. Tshaka Zulu keeps talking directly to Darling, pointing into the distance and asking what she sees. The old man makes a grave speech about motherland and rule by strangers and then rushes at a pizza boy standing not too far away. Just when Darling begins to fear for the pizza boy, police cars approach with their sirens blaring and Tshaka Zulu throws his spear which doesn’t go very far. The police come out with their guns pulled, telling Tshaka Zulu to drop his weapon.

Chapter 18 Summary: “Writing on the Wall”

Darling is studying for a Biology test one night, trying to put in an effort since Aunt Fostalina has been pressuring her to study Medicine or Nursing in college. Marina and Darling text back and forth, and Darling, without much thought, starts to write on her wall in marker. She goes downstairs and gets a sponge, but this makes her wall look even worse than before. She thinks about how she and her friends once drew a bunch of penises and bad words on a wall in Budapest.

Marina texts her that she had sex for the first time, last night, and Darling informs the reader that Kristal is already pregnant. Darling tells Marina that she made out with Tony, then elaborates on the story to the reader, saying that Amma picked her up one day and took her to a club where she danced with Tony. Other couples also danced incredibly close, almost performing sexual acts while “grinding” and “daggering”. Darling doesn’t tell Marina much about it though, simply saying it was “cool.”

In the morning, Darling notices what she has done to her wall. She knows she has only half an hour until Aunt Fostalina comes home from work, so she rushes to the basement and chooses a bunch of things to hang on her wall: a batik, a clock in the shape of Zimbabwe, and a mask. She hangs the things on her wall upstairs and thinks of the slab of ivory in the shape of Africa at Eliot’s house that she stole; she hangs this above her bed.

She decides to call her mother over Skype and Chipo picks up the call. She asks Chipo where the others are and she says that Bastard has gone to South Africa, Godknows is in Dubai, Sbho has joined a traveling theatre group, and Stina is still around but sometimes disappears. Chipo and her daughter Darling are the last ones left in Paradise.

Darling starts to talk about being sorry for how bad things are there, but Chipo gets very angry at her, telling her that seeing things on the BBC is nothing like being there and that Zimbabwe is no longer her country because she abandoned it. Darling is so upset by this that she throws her computer and then immediately regrets this. The computer hits the mask on the wall and they both fall to the ground.

Darling leaves her room and goes into TK’s, which is very clean and looks the same as when he left, with pictures of TK and his friends dancing and his electronics all waiting for him. Uncle Kojo comes in and announces that they have killed bin Laden. He tells her all about it, excited, and she thinks back to her childhood friends again, discussing the game they made up about finding bin Laden. In her memory, they see the dog Ncuncu who had been Bornfree’s dog but now roamed all over. They chased her yelling “Bin Laden! Bin Laden!” and suddenly a lorry came and hit her, leaving blood and “crushed meat” in the road.

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