Book Review: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is a semi-autobiographical based on a story of a young woman in pre-independence Zimbabwe.

The story centres around two female cousins, Tambudzai (commonly known as Tambu) and Nyasha. Tambu reflects back on her adolescence and, in particular, the major events that shaped her life. Nervous Conditions deals with the themes of poverty, the challenges faced by women trying to achieve their aims in life and the struggles they have to undertake in order to succeed.

The book deeply explores psychological consequences of colonialism.

The main character of the novel is Tambu, and is given an opportunity to study after the death of her older brother Nhamo. Nhamo was the only male in the entire family and therefore he was always given preferential treatment by their father as he expected that he would bring them out of poverty. Due to the family’s socio-economic status and patriarchal stance, Nhamo was given preference to study. Tambu was not fully supported in studying as it was believed that she should focus more on her role to be a woman. Soon after the mysterious death of her brother, Tambu now being the eldest child was the next in line.

Even though such opportunities are not usually given to women, Babamukuru (her wealthy and learned uncle) was convinced that education even for women is a positive.

Babamukuru is a well-educated member of the family who got an opportunity to study abroad and did well for himself; after years of studying in England, he returned home to give back by offering opportunities to branches of his family to study and better the family’s condition. Babamukuru was always given respect and was looked upon with awe as he could achieve success through persistence and hard work.

As Tambu goes on to live with Babamukuru, his educated wife Maiguru and rebellious daughter Nyasha, many other secrets and true colors of Babamukuru are revealed. In her journey to better her condition through education she finds out shocking truths in the Babamukuru’s household. It is not what seemed like from a distance and the lives of Maiguru and Nyasha were not what it should have been like.

This is an easy book to read. It’s quite intense in some parts but Tsitsi Dangarembga does a remarkable job in making it enjoyable. There are delightful and humourous moments and other parts that are unpleasant.

The middle part of the book dragged a little more than I would have liked, but it eventually picked up momentum and we were on the high way again. This book can be easily read in one or two sittings because it is short, captivating and not easy to put down. I would recommend it to people with a short attention span and people who are put off by reading because a book looks big.

I liked how this book introduces us to many struggles that women experience and helps us view society from a different perspective and the fact that everything is achievable. Tambu portrays entrapment as the oppression of women with regard to class, race and gender.

I find books more enjoyable if I am able to identify with the lives and struggles of the characters and even though this book was based in the 1960’s, many women are still trapped in traditional roles of domestic servitude; this makes writers born in different generations to relate.

I rate the book 9 out of 10, it is not 100% perfect but it is a very captivating and a fine piece of literature.

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