Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (2004, 2nd ed. Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd.)
‘This stunning first novel, set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s, centers on the coming of age of a teenage girl, Tambu, and her relationship with her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu, who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village, especially the circumscribed lives of the women, thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price. At the school she meets the worldly and rebellious Nyasha, who is chafing under her father’s authority. Raised in England, Nyasha is so much a stranger among her own people that she can no longer speak her native language. Tambu can only watch as her cousin, caught between two cultures, pays the full cost of alienation.’
Read as part of a Post Colonial Literature module at university.
This is one the most enjoyable books on the reading list so far. It’s told in a similar style to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which was both a plus and a negative. There seems to be something about African literature (and yes, I’m making a grand generalisation here) that always feels like it would work much better read aloud. That oral, story telling tradition is present on the printed page.
For me, the star of this book isn’t necessarily the protagonist, Tambu, but her cousin, Nyasha. It’s in Nyasha’s character that the full extent of a fractured identity becomes clear. But as the author herself says, she didn’t want the story to be told through a character like Nyasha- and I think that degree of separation allows for a better observation.
I love both Tambu and Nyasha’s fire. Even if Nyasha turns it on herself in the end.
A heartbreaking ending- this book seems to explode near the end. Up until that point that are some really poignant moments, like when Tambu goes to town to sell her ‘mealies’ to raise the fees for school. And when her uncle returns from England. But it’s that confrontation that Nyasha has with her father that really stands out because everything changes- perspectives, characters, lives.
A quick read (it’s only around 200 pages long) but it lingers long after the last page.
It gets a hearty 4 out of 5. A compelling narrative- but I’m still not necessarily won over by the type of narrative style yet. I’m into my poetics and metaphors, rather than a straightforward approach. Still, this book has a real power to it.