Reading: Tsitsi Dangarembga’s ‘Nervous Conditions’

“I was not sorry when my brother died.”

One of my favourite opening lines.

Before we get into the book can we give a round of applause to Tsitsi Dangarembga for her win? She recently became the first black woman to receive the German Peace Prize. Congratulations!

Now, as I was saying, one of my favourite opening lines to a novel. Enough to invite you in and find out more, to want to know the why and how. This is young Tambudza taking us through her childhood and starts off by telling us about her life in the village and the challenges she goes through as a girl.

Her brother is taken by their uncle to attend the missionary school, while she is told that the education she needs is how she will look after her future husband. Tambudza wants to go to school, but grooming her to be a “good wife” and womanhood are separated from education. She is taught that sacrifices are to be made by women (girls).

It’s when her brother dies that education is finally available to her and she also gets the opportunity to go live with her educated uncle, who’s the headmaster of the mission school. Living there presents its own troubles; her cousin’s rejection of her father’s claims of authority, and her uncle’s wife who’s an educated woman but who is merely her husband’s helpmate.

Dangarembga tackles significant themes such as the injustice towards girls and women, poverty and the burdens or duties of the educated members of poor families to help out, and the issue of Englishness.

I enjoyed this book because of the way it challenges the idea that the only use for girls and women is to look after men. The idea that a woman who is educated is not a good wife, this separation of the two comes out and we see how the characters struggle with it.

It’s an outstanding novel. The way Dangarembga pulls us deep into the lives of these girls and women, and how we are able to taste their realities. A book that makes you feel the heaviness of what the author is putting across is a winner, this book is a winner.

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Autodidact & Bibliophile

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