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ISBN: 978-0-9547023-3-5 | 224 pages | Weight: 0.24kg | Paperback | Published 2004 | Rights: World
Categories: African | Fiction | Literature |
"Many good novels written by men have come out of Africa, but few by Black women. This is the novel we have been waiting for... it will become a classic." Doris Lessing.
Tsitsi Dangarembga - Winner of the 1989 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
With a NEW INTRODUCTION by Anthony Kwame Appiah
Tambudzai dreams of education, but her hopes only materialise after her brother's death, when she goes to live with her uncle. At his mission school, her critical faculties develop rapidly, bringing her face to face with a new set of conflicts involving her uncle, his education and his family. Tsitsi Dangarembga's quietly devastating first novel offers a portrait of Zimbabwe, where enlightenment brings its own profound dilemmas.
Reviewed in 'The Guardian’s Saturday Review' Section 30 October 2004, by Elena Seymenliyska
It is the late 1960s and Tambu is a 13- year-old in rural Zimbabwe. “Although our squalor was brutal,” she says, “it was uncompromisingly ours.” Her brother Nhamo has been sent to the mission school in town, his education paid for by her uncle, the family elder. Tambu is thirsty for knowledge, and feels the injustice of being kept on the family homestead, but Nhamo tells her she’d be “better off with less thinking and more respect.” Tsitsi Dangarembga’s semi-autobiographical debut was first published in 1988, when it won a Commonwealth Writers prize. It has since become a staple on Eng Lit courses, and is now reissued with a scholarly introduction. A coming-of-age story, it ticks all the right boxes for student essayists—colonialism, gender, race—and provides a mine of information about Shona customs. Its appeal to lay readers lies with the guileless Tambu, who starts off as a rather prim little girl but turns into a perceptive and independent young woman. ES.
Review by Yinka Sunmonu, YoungMinds Magazine 76 May/June 2005
"I was not sorry when my brother died." Says Tambu at the beginning of this first person narrative. Without her brother Nhamo's death, Tambu would have been unable to gain the education she longed for. Yet education for a girl was something her father frowned upon. "Can you cook books and feed them to your husband?" he asks.
Tambu lives in a patriarchal society where "womanhood is a heavy burden."
This remark becomes evident in the lives and experiences of Tambu's mother Mainini, cousin Nyasha, her Mother Maiguru and Lucia, Mainini's sister. Set in the 60s, village life and class is deftly portrayed. Although there are women who pursue education, such as Maiguru, with a master's degree, their first duty is to their husbands and family.
The story becomes intriguing when Tambu's cousin Nyasha returns to Zimbabwe with her parents. Whereas Tambu speaks Shona and respects her elders, Nyasha does not. She will not conform to her father's dress code, she reads literature her mother disapproves of and is at odds with her new life. Significantly, Nyasha can no longer communicate in Shona. As Mainini says later on: "It's the Englishness".
The transition that Nyasha undergoes when Tambu's father sponsors her education is humorous and poignant as she struggles with English and new conventions. Tambu develops insecurities of her own due to self-expectation and the challenges awaiting her.
Food is symbolic. This is seen when Nyasha develops an eating disorder. As Nyasha loses weight, she gradually loses sense of who she is and where she belongs. "I'm not one of them but I'm not one of you." Eventually, she is hospitalised.
Although change is inevitable for Tambu, she still retains a sense and love of her African tradition even though there is much to question and reject. Nyasha, by contrast, becomes a symbol of what can happen when trying to reconcile two different cultures at a difficult age. Tambu is philosophical about her circumstances saying: "I told myself that I was a much more sensible person than Nyasha, because I knew what could or couldn't be done." Mainini's greatest fear is that she will be unable to communicate with her daughter one day.
Dangarembga raises issues about culture, conflict, displacement, family relationships, consciousness and emancipation in a postcolonial society. On another level, it illustrates what children raised between two cultures may have to contend with.
Nervous Conditions will find an audience with young people (especially women) and those working in health, teaching and social work professions.
Yinka Sunmonu is author of Cherish and editor of www.ebonyreads.com which focuses on Black and Asian literature.
About the Author
Tsitsi Dangarembga was born and brought up in Zimbabwe. She studied medicine and psychology, before turning to writing full-time.
In addiion to Nervous Conditions, she has written a play entitled She No Longer Weeps. Today, in addition to writing, Dangarembga works as a script writer, consultant and film director.Return to the top of the view