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Nervous Conditions Paperback – 1989
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From Publishers Weekly
Tambu, an adolescent living in colonial Rhodesia of the '60s, seizes the opportunity to leave her rural community to study at the missionary school run by her wealthy, British-educated uncle. With an uncanny and often critical self-awareness, Tambu narrates this skillful first novel by a Zimbabwe native. Like many heroes of the bildungsroman, Tambu, in addition to excelling at her curriculum, slowly reaches some painful conclusions--about her family, her proscribed role as a woman, and the inherent evils of colonization. Tambu often thinks of her mother, "who suffered from being female and poor and uneducated and black so stoically." Yet, she and her cousin, Nyasha, move increasingly farther away from their cultural heritage. At a funeral in her native village, Tambu admires the mourning of the women, "shrill, sharp, shiny, needles of sound piercing cleanly and deeply to let the anguish in, not out." In many ways, this novel becomes Tambu's keening--a resonant, eloquent tribute to the women in her life, and to their losses.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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
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. (The Guardian)
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 (Young Minds Magazine) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Nyasha's character resonated most with me: I, too, feel frustrated by what seems to be an obvious oppressive reality around me as well as the extreme deprivation that can encourage oppressed people to appear complicit. Additionally, most of the other characters also helped open my eyes to the ways that I have failed to understand why people with situations different from my own can seem complicit in their own subordination. The discussion of how gender plays out also may be eye-opening for those with little clarity on the violence that seeming innocuous hierarchies produce (e.g. even "good" people can enact said violence). I plan on reading the sequel, although I've heard it's not as good.
I also recommend this book to:
-Any person who doesn't understand the severity of the violence of colonization on those who have been colonized (e.g. people who aren't part of a colonized group, people who firmly believe today's racism is "less bad" than yesterday's)
-Those who don't see why people in the African diaspora are often concerned with what often is written off as mere "identity politics" (as opposed to a legitimate sense of loss)
-Any person who is having a hard time understanding how "nice" and "good" people are still among the hands that enact violence against colonized peoples
-Any person who is having a hard time understanding how a "minority" can be among the hands that enact violence against (their own) colonized people (e.g. people who firmly believe in a rigid category of "sell-outs")